An Immigration Task Force delegation led by Bishop Warner H. Brown, Jr. has just returned from a fact-finding trip to the U.S.-Mexico border in Arizona and Sonora, Mexico. Its objective was to learn about border ministries and to bear witness to Christ's love and concern.
The delegation documented the trip through blog posts. On Friday, February 5, the Rev. Brenda Vaca, chair of the task force and pastor of Ministerios Nueva Vida (New Life Ministries), or Nueva Vida United Methodist Church, in San Francisco, wrote about "The Migrant Christ":
With our first day behind us, it is safe to say that we are all overwhelmed. Overwhelmed with the unfathomable amount of need and desperation and death that happens here in the desert. But, more than being overwhelmed, we are filled with a contagious excitement and resurrection-hope.
Yesterday we were not able to reflect in writing in this blog because it was a very busy day of travel, witness, and learning. We woke early in the morning and left the comfort of our Phoenix hotel to head to Eloy Detention Center. Eloy Detention Center has been described as the hell of the immigration detention world. If you've ever been to a federal penitentiary, San Quentin, you know what it is like to enter. You have to be buzzed in and out, [and have to] leave everything in your car, remove your jewelry, bring your I.D., take off your shoes. We spent some time in the courtrooms observing bond hearings and deportation proceedings. The "detainees" were mostly men, Latinos, and very young. In particular, I was struck by the many faces that turned to see us come in as they waited in a common room for their consulates from their countries of origin. Lots of fear. Lots of hope.
We were struck by this announcement on one of the walls: "ICE Total: 1433." When we asked what this meant, we were informed it meant that there are currently 1433-plus (they haven't updated their figures in a while) detainees in custody at Eloy. This was shocking information, since Eloy supposedly is a 120-bed facility.
We then headed to Tucson to meet with Kat Rodriguez from "Derechos Humanos," a human rights coalition that documents abuses to the immigrant community from Border Patrol, ICE, etc. Kat shared information about the "funnel effect" strategy of the U.S. government (check out www.derechoshumanosaz.net for more info) along the U.S.-Mexico border. Building walls with the former landing gear from the Vietnam War and the First Gulf War (horrifying how it's all connected) along populated border cities such as Yuma, Nogales/Nogales, Agua Prieta/Douglas, etc. Forcing them into the most unforgiving parts of the desert: the mountains (deathly hot in the summer and freezing, snow-capped in the winter) of the Buenos Aires Wildlife Refuge, and the home of the "Desert People," the Tohono O'odham Nation.
Immediately after, we met retired Presbyterian pastor, Rev. Gene Lefebvre, one of the founders of No More Deaths (www.nomoredeaths.org) and one of the founders of the Sanctuary Movement in the 1980s. We all were struck by the countless stories of encounters with the Migrant Christ in the desert: young, old, female, male, unknown gender, child, Mexican, Guatemalan, Honduran, on and on. As my sister put it, "If the desert could talk ..."
This morning we are meeting with Rev. Delle McCormick of BorderLinks and Rev. Dr. Robin Hoover, pastor of First Christian Church (DOC). More to share later...
P.S. The Internet connections have been so slow when we've had access to it, that we have not been able to upload photos to this blog. Stay tuned!