On our first morning here, we walked across the border and into Mexico. No one asked to see my passport, not a single question was asked. I saw the wall, snaking up and down the terrain, drones and cameras watching everyone and everything that approached it. I didn’t see the cartel members in the trees at the top of the hill, but I was told by a number of people that they were there, watching for migrants.
Prior to going on this trip, it seemed like everyone I told left me with the same warning: “Be careful, the border is dangerous.” I guess if I was afraid of anything, it was the drug lords and cartels I had heard about in the media. However, when we crossed the border, I didn’t feel unsafe at all.
Nogales is unique because it’s one of the only cities split by the wall. About 25,000 people live on the America side, while 250,000 live on the Mexico side. In 2011, the wall was built to replace a wire fence. Prior to this, Americans and tourists flowed freely between the border, heading into Mexico for a cheap authentic dinner or a night on the town. However, following 911, as talks of threats to national security skyrocketed, people began to avoid the border at all costs because they were afraid. In walking through the town, you see what’s left of what used to be a lively town for tourists, now clearly in a depression.
Throughout the trip, the idea of the wall continues to come up, literally and figuratively. It’s pretty hard to miss the structure that stands 18-30 feet depending on the location. I’ve learned it takes two minutes to climb over it. About four million dollars per mile to build it. Drugs and money can still be passed between the it. In fact, other than stirring fear in people, the wall does very little. When we put walls up, we assume it’s up to keep something out. It really struck me when Fr. Peter Neeley, a Jesuit priest who has worked with immigration for over 20 years asked us, “How is putting up a wall loving your neighbor?”
A train track runs through the center of Nogales, perpendicular to the wall. Ironically, the first train we saw pass through was a Union Pacific, carrying Ford cars. Everyday 2,500 Fords manufactured in Nogales are brought into the U.S. We watched as the wall opened so the train could pass through, closing immediately after the last car. This is just one example of the many goods that pass from Mexico into America. In addition to this, we saw an abundance of factories in the city, all producing American goods.
Again, I was struck by Fr. Neeley’s words. “America depends on so many material goods from Mexico, but when it comes to the people, it wants nothing to do with them.” America relies on the world for so many of its possessions. We don’t live in a little cocoon.
Fr. Neeley talked about how 20 years ago he would tell Mexicans he worked with how wonderful he thought America was. He would ask them why they hadn’t wanted to try and find jobs in the United States, where they would make a better wage, to which they would respond, “Why would we go to the U.S. Father? We have everything we need here and we’re happy.”
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the average American moves 12 times in his or her lifetime, over 80 percent of these people move within the same state. The reasons include leaving for college and job opportunities. The point is, most people don’t move unless they have to, especially to places far from their families with unfamiliar languages and cultures.
Over the past four days every migrant we’ve talked to was running from something or to someone. From trying to avoid danger, to hoping to meet his or her child for the first time, each migrant we’ve met didn’t leave their home just because they wanted to; they had to.
Yet, we continue to dehumanize them, we continue to criminalize them and we continue to build walls instead of looking at the human on the other side.
Pope Francis asks us: “Where is your compassion? Have you forgotten how to cry?”