From Across the Border

A gorgeous piece of outdoor art by Victor Casas, capturing the migrant experience in Juarez Mexico

It is with an incredibly heavy heart and very mixed emotions that I share what I saw in Juarez. But not all of what I saw can be shared. In fact very little of what I saw can be shared, especially visually. First and foremost, the safety of the over 17,000 migrants who have been returned to and are thus stranded in Juarez, and who are in incredible danger, must be protected. This must be an absolute priority for all who cross over. Human kidnapping, trafficking, and worse (if there can really even be anything worse) are immense concerns and issues in Juarez. Because of this, the identities of the migrants themselves, those working with them, and information about shelters are not for us to share. But I trust that you are capable to read the words shared by those who go over, and then visualize in your mind the suffering they are trying to portray.

The most important thing to take away from this whole mess is that this is an unnecessary and outright inhumane humanitarian crisis that our government created. We are responsible for the overwhelming suffering happening there and throughout many Mexican cities all along our southern border as well as in the countries of Central America. The history of United States policies in Central America has caused the instability, violence, and poverty from which so many people are fleeing and then arriving at our doorstep asking for us to let them in. It is the very least we can do.

The most urgent issue that needs to be addressed (and there are good, kind, unselfish people giving all they have and more to address the many aspects of this overwhelming crisis) is that it is getting cold, real cold; and many, many people are not prepared for it and are already suffering because of it. We must work with those here to get warm clothing to them so they can get the clothing to the people living in the tents and in the shelters. Tonight it is below freezing and some are still in shorts, tee shirts, and flip flops. I’m not kidding you. Walking among tents flapping in the wind, seeing young children, teenagers, and adults trying to stay warm in any way they could, was incredibly sad to see. I saw three teenage girls wrapped up in a makeshift blanket trying to stay warm. I gave a young girl in a tee shirt, the flannel shirt off my back because her arms were covered in goosebumps. No matter how fast and hard she rubbed her arms up and down, the goosebumps remained. Long johns, flannel shirts, hats, warm coats, sweaters/ sweatshirts, gloves, socks, long pants, blankets are desperately needed… like yesterday.

When I helped at the Expo in Portland this past summer, when the asylum seekers from the Congo and Angola arrived, there was a look of sheer exhaustion on many of the mothers’ faces that stood out to me. I saw that same look on the faces of many mothers today. But I also saw intense sadness and fear. One little boy, maybe 5 years old?, had frostbite on his face from when he was in what is called, the icebox, before being put in detention. We have heard of these icebox cells, hieleras as they are called. We have heard that they are obviously cold and that those who are put in them suffer greatly. What we didn’t realize, or at least I didn’t, was that these cells must be well below freezing for a young child to get frostbite. Who on Earth puts children (and adults) into iceboxes anyway? Who came up with this sick, twisted idea? Steven Miller would be one of my guesses. There were people who share about being given the chance to go back to the US for hearings or meetings on their asylum status but were afraid to because they didn’t want their children to go back into the iceboxes. It appears that is where they are put upon arrival to the United States. There is nothing, absolutely nothing that can justify such torture. Because let’s be clear here, this is state sponsored torture that is designed by, condoned by, and carried out by our government.

And these “bad hombres”, that our racist and ignorant president likes to call them… are incredibly beautiful people. If we, the most powerful nation on the planet, has to build up our border against toddlers, mothers, and others suffering from such desperation, well we are just delusional, confused, and messed up. We are being lied to, big time. Over and over again I found myself wondering where is the media on all this? Where are our big news outlets? Where are our United States representatives? Why aren’t they covering this? I was ashamed to be a white United States citizen as I sat talking with volunteers, shelter directors, nuns, and professors who are struggling 24/7 with this humanitarian crisis that was carefully orchestrated and is now taking place in their city.

At one of several shelters we visited I stood between two women from Central America making burritos. I was much taller than both of them. While I struggled to communicate with them because I don’t know Spanish (which I must remediate this problem!) they smiled and taught me to roll burritos the right way. We laughed and slowly relaxed around each other. Their young daughters were very eager to say hola to the unusual looking white ladies who spoke funny. They were kind and patient and even though they were living in such extreme duress, they had a lovely sense of humor. I can still hear their shy giggles. This short moment of our day will stay with me forever and to be honest it makes me incredibly sad. How did we come to this place and time that we hurt such lovely, innocent people in the name of Homeland Security? The anger I feel at knowing that we have been lied to and manipulated to believe these lies so we can build up our military at the border and our detention complex is at times overwhelming.

We came back to El Paso before dark because it is very dangerous after dark. But those lovely people who are so scared and vulnerable couldn’t leave. They have to stay in their tents or shelters or who know where else, while living in fear of kidnapping and while they struggle with the cold and hunger. Coming back across our border, going through check points, seeing fully armed military was also beyond sad. People who live here say it didn’t use to be this way.

Please call your senators and representatives. Ask them to put an end to MPP (Migrant Protection Protocal which is an ironic name because there isn’t any protection anywhere) and reopen our border. Ask them to end the use of inhumane iceboxes. Ask them if they’ve been to the border lately. My guess is a visit to Juarez and Matamores would be well worth their time.

May those living under such intense stress find humane relief and may we all do something to help them.



4 thoughts on “From Across the Border

  1. Dear Friends, Thank you for your courage and your witness !! What a horror our leaders have orchestrated. The hieleras have been in existence for years when folks are detained in crossing for any reason. But it was usually only a few hours. Now it can be days. Yes it is a form of torture, focus your mind on staying warm rather than understanding what is happening to you. Thank you. Barb at Standing on the Corner in AZ.

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  2. Thank you for this heartbreaking account and for the incredibly kind and generous work you commit yourself to. You are a hero!!! And are showing others the way.


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