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Conscientization at the Border

During spring break, fifteen people from Moravian College and Moravian Theological Seminary traveled to the border region between Tuscon, Ariz., and Nogales, Mexico, to participate in an immersion travel seminar with Borderlinks. http://www.borderlinks.org/

Students participated as part of their study of liberation theology in two courses, one at the Seminary taught by Professor Grace Ji-Sun Kim and one at the College taught by Professor Kelly Denton-Borhaug. Participating students included Daniel Liston '11, Steve Gaden '13, Eddie Flaherty '12, Andrea DeCarlo '11, Sarah White '11, Noah Mayer '12, Raymond Bush, Alfred Jones, Susan Bennetech, Jewell Davis, Joshua Jones, and Theo Ji-Sun Kim

Our purpose was to explore the reality of this region and U.S. immigration policies from the perspective of “the margins”—in other words, to attempt to understand the practices and consequences of these polices on the lives of the most at-risk and vulnerable population, the migrants themselves. Intentionally assuming this point of view is a requisite of “liberation theology.”

Foremost in our trip was our focus on seeing the faces and listening to the stories of the migrants. We visited with newly re-patriated migrants who came to a soup kitchen in Nogales and a temporary shelter program. We also heard presentations by leaders of Derechos Humanos”—a non-profit focused on tracing human rights abuses and educating migrants and immigrants about their human rights. We spent an afternoon at the Tuscon Courthouse witnessing Operation Streamline, a specially-designed system that processes 70 migrants in one and a half hours through the legal system. We heard theologians and leaders of community centers, toured a maquiladora (one of dozens of the U.S.-corporate factories on the border), and interviewed its senior manager about labor and other economic practices. We traced one migrant pathway through the desert with a leader of the Samaritans, a volunteer organization in Tuscon that tries to reduce the danger for migrants by searching for migrants at risk of serious injury and death because of heat stroke and other dangers, and providing food, water, and medicines.

We also visited “the wall” on the border between Arizona and Mexico.  Constructed since 9/11/2001 from military landing strip materials from the first Gulf War, the wall has not deterred the number of migrants attempting to cross into the United States, but it has thrust determined, crossing migrants into much more perilous desert regions, resulting in a huge increase in deaths (the remains of more than 5,000 bodies have been recovered during this time). As Rev. John Fife, an activist in the region for more than 35 years told us, what U.S. immigration policies fail to take into account is “the true desperation of poverty” experienced by so many migrants, along with “the addiction to cheap labor” that he believes characterizes the United States and continues to draw so many here. 

On the Mexico side of the wall, we spent time contemplating the protest art exhibited on the wall itself. The most recent installation is a huge banner comprised of thousands of photographs of the inhabitants of Nogales, a migrant city of more than 400,000. “We make the way forward by walking together,” the banner proclaims. 

We will continue to study and ponder all of these experiences, and how to share what we are learning with the wider Moravian community.  –by Kelly Denton-Borhaug, associate professor of religion