In What Do I Dare to Trust?

casa sofia student

The School

The six grade girl in a school near McAllen, Texas, is bright, brave, and, of course, attentive.

The girl returned home after classes one day to report to her mother that her teacher had begun the day telling the class that “Homeland Security had authorized” the teacher to collect additional data about her pupils. The teacher then gave each student a sheet of paper that, amongst other things, asked for the immigration status of the members of the child’s family.

The girl’s mother is an active participant in a local community-based organization that focuses upon education issues. She, like her daughter, is bright, brave, and attentive, and, now, outraged. The mother complained to her friends at the community organization, who in turn, called the superintendent of the school district.

The report of the teacher’s actions alarmed the superintendent, who had gone out of his way to assure his school community that all students in his schools would be protected from the ramped up persecution of immigrant families. The superintendent called the school’s principal, only to discover that it was the principal who had authorized the collection of data. A new hire, the principal had come across a stack of documents, reportedly from Homeland Security, asking for this information.

The school superintendent nixed that notion, and the data collection process ended, although not without calling into question the school’s loyalty to its families.

Along the border, families increasingly worry about whether they can trust their schools.

Health Care

Carlos is a young undocumented Mexican national who had been living for a couple of years in Brownsville. He is a good fellow, well-connected to his family, loved by his friends.

Carlos had slipped off of a ladder while on a construction job. He suffered a compound fracture to his ankle. In the emergency room, the attending physician told him that the injury was so bad that Carlos would need to go to San Antonio to get the medical attention that he needed. He was told that he would be transported there by ambulance.

As the ambulance staff readied him for transport, Carlos, knowing that to get to San Antonio that they would have to pass through a border patrol checkpoint, told the staff that he was undocumented. “Don’t worry,” said one of the attendants, “we got that covered.”

Carlos’ sister was going to go with him, but she had second thoughts, as she too is undocumented, so she called an aunt, a well-documented American citizen, who agreed to go with Carlos to San Antonio.

The aunt rode up front in the ambulance, next to the driver. When they reached the check point, the driver shocked her when he told the border patrol agent, “Hey, we’ve got an illegal in the back.”

The border patrol agents cuffed Carlos, followed him to the hospital, sat outside the surgical ward during the procedure, and, after he was released, put him into deportation proceedings.

“Wow. So now medical facilities work for immigration? What ever happened to that oath thing that they take?” said the aunt, upon reflection.

When told that ambulance drivers don’t take the Hippocratic Oath, she replied, sarcastically, “Well, that is a relief. I feel much better now.”

This sort of thing (hospital transportation teams turning people into immigration authorities) is not new, but remains deeply disturbing. A well-publicized incident involving an infant in need of surgery, as well as a recent story about a pregnant Honduran refugee being denied access to care, have refocused a national discussion about the immigration enforcement actions invading the sacred space between people in need of medical care—and those who provide that care.

The Park

In February, Debbie Nathan, a grizzeld investigative reporter for the ACLU of Texas, wrote a piece about an over-the-top action involving troopers from the Texas Department of Public Safety, and Border Patrol agents. The short version of the story is that a local family went to enjoy the opening game of a baseball park that had just been inaugurated. The park was so new that restroom facilities weren’t up and running yet, so when the mom heard the inevitable complaint of the six year old (“I need to pee!”), she took the boy just outside the park into the privacy of some trees and bushes.

Apparently the kid’s urinary actions set off some sort of surveillance device, which alerted mission headquarters in Austin, who in turn ordered state troopers to the site of the incident.

The ballgame was interrupted when several agents, both state troopers and border patrol, pulled up in their cars, went into the stands and surrounded the mother and her children, and arrested the mother.

After furious public outrage, especially by the mayor of the town, whose happy community event was ruined by a military response to a boy peeing, the mother was not deported, but released with a veiled threat of “we’ll let your child finish school in May.”

The home team, however, was crippled by the action, as several of the players were unwilling to risk the racial profiling of state troopers and border patrol agents.

The umpire’s happy cry of “safe!” has taken on another meaning in that ballpark, as well as in the lives of those that gathered for that game.

As Nathan notes in her article, perhaps this enforcement action is a sign of more to come, an ironic disruption to community peace in the name of national security.

Do Not Obey in Advance

ninos inmigrantesIn mid-May, just before the end of the school year, a mother drove to a local grammar school to pick up her three children. As she was parking her truck, a Brownsville police officer, apparently doing traffic duty, asked her for her papers. The woman, however, having suffered an onslaught of news reports about SB4, the Texas “Show Me Your Papers” law, told me that she thought that he meant her immigration documents. The policeman was only asking about her driver’s license and proof of insurance.

The woman, shaken, went into the school office to collect her children.

Inside the school, the mother ran into the school secretary. As is the case in many communities, the secretary is considered a reliable source of knowledge. This mom, afraid, pled her case. “But the police have no right to ask me for my papers; they have no right to do that on school property! Who can I complain to?”

The secretary responded, “Ah, but you see, with that new law, SB4, everything has changed. The police can come into the school any time they want and they can take illegal people away. You should be glad that he didn’t deport you. But he will be back!”

The mother of three gasped; the secretary went back to answering phones and attending other parents’ needs. The mother went home and called her local parish. The priest was able to calm her fears, reminding her that she had the support of her church, and of many others. “I am not sure what exactly we will do as a parish,” the priest told me, “But we will come up with something.”

On May 7, 2017 Texas Governor Greg Abbot went live on Facebook and signed Senate Bill 4. On September 1st, SB4 effectively creates federal immigration agents out of city, county and college police. Police department chiefs and other authorities that refuse to cooperate will be subject to criminal prosecution.

“People hunting has become the state-sponsored sport of the moment,” remarked an older friend of mine.

So it seems.

One small church has joined in the hunt early on. Just days after the governor signed SB4, the pastor of that community took the trouble one Sunday to exhort the undocumented immigrants in his church to “pack up and leave. God wants you to follow the law!”

And so fourteen families sold all that they had and self-deported. These families are mixed-status—some are US citizens, some are undocumented residents. In one case, three American-born siblings were told that they had a week to say goodbye to their friends, that the family was moving to the mother’s native Peru. None of those kids really knows what “Peru” means; they have never been there, and, in any case, they had been preoccupied with navigating that other unknown territory known as adolescence.

During that same week that the school mom received her fright, I got a call from a fellow who works with a community clinic. Doctors there were worrying about the number of parents missing appointments. The patients, apparently, were afraid that they would be picked up by the Border Patrol, which likes to hang out at the taqueria across the street from the clinic.

At a different community clinic, a border patrol agent had taken to sitting in his patrol car during lunch in the patients’ parking lot. He may have been simply eating his sandwich; the clinic’s clients skipped their appointments. “You never know,” concluded one of the patient advocates who works at the clinic.

One of the best summer programs for kids in the region has lost half the participants that they had last year. The director of the organization noted that the constant presence of Texas State troopers, who have committed their officers to stopping anyone who appears to them to be an undocumented immigrant, has created all sorts of hardships for their programs. “People are afraid,” she said.

Timothy Snyder, a scholar specializing in the history of fascist Europe, has laid out a list of the kinds of symptoms that indicated that the hearts and minds of “regular citizens” had accepted some of the rankest evils in our recent history. Amongst these symptoms was the willingness of citizens to obey in advance, to put aside critical thought and generous sensibilities in an effort to align themselves with what appeared to be the new reality. In this way, perhaps unwittingly, the citizens helped usher in all manner of evil. It became acceptable to segregate Jewish people, for example, which led to the tolerance of rounding up those neighbors, and, later, to the silent cooperation in their murders.

Snyder addresses his thoughts to our entire nation, but the admonition to “not obey in advance” has a particular immediacy in the Rio Grande Valley. Our region is, after all, along a border; in some places, it is a ten-minute drive to the bridge. A family’s fortunes can change in those ten to fifteen minutes. There is neither the time nor the legal resources for a family to establish a lawful claim of presence. Furthermore, the Valley, like much of the southern border, has been militarized over the past ten years. The state of Texas itself will have spent nearly $2 billion over four years to fill the area with state troopers, who act as surrogates for the border patrol. And, of course, there is SB4, a law that will exponentially expand the reach of the border patrol by adding hundreds of local police officers to their force. All of this works to create a social space that makes the abuse and exploitation of people much easier. While there have always been individuals in our area who cheat and exploit the undocumented, the strident criminalization of all immigrants offers a temptation for others to either look the other way and ignore these abuses, or, sadly, engage in their own form of exploitation.

There are, on the other hand, an uncountable number of people who refuse to accept the hunting down of friends and neighbors as the new normal. Artists and educators, physicians and activists, younger folks and older ones have spent the spring and early part of the summer organizing what is called The Resistance.

These are thoughtful, creative and courageous people who know their history, refuse an easy obedience to evil, and who believe in their power.

They are God-sent gifts for a difficult time.


sb4 hearingAbout a month ago I was part of a group of people assaulted by a guy who used the National Anthem as a weapon.

About a hundred of us were standing in line, waiting to offer our testimony before the Texas House of Representatives’ State Affairs’ Committee. We were part of more than a thousand people gathered that day, determined to testify on the multiple ways that Senate Bill 4, the Texas “anti-sanctuary cities” bill, was a curse, a pox, and a bad law. The law would authorize, indeed, would require local police officers to act as immigration agents.

We were chatting easily in the hallway, enjoying the remarkable hospitality of fellow traveller, when an older fellow, an American flag bandana tied around his forehead, swaggered up the hall. His name tag identified him as a member of the Fredericksburg Tea Party. The man stopped about fifteen away, scowled at the group for a long moment, and then launched into the Star-Spangled Banner.

To give him credit, he was brave to attack us with such a clumsy weapon. This is a tune with some impossible high notes—and it goes on forever and ever. It seems to me that it would be just plain hard to express passionate anger for that long a time, but this guy apparently had a lot of bile to fuel his effort.

His intent, however, was interrupted by some of the younger members of our group. They turned toward him and began singing their own songs. The songs were followed by chants, all of which filled the long hallways of the Capitol, attracting news media and others to the scene.

The Tea Party fellow finally finished—not that I could hear him. He gave a fist pump directed to whoever sits on high, looking down on all of this, and then wandered back off down the hall, the American flag, looking a little worn, still sitting on his head.

In the meantime, the testimonies against the bill continued. I was delighted with the energy and patience that my representative, Rene Oliveira from Brownsville, demonstrated as a member of the committee. Over and again he followed up on objections to the law, drawing out the salient points about just how this was bad public policy. Someone spoke about her fear that the community would not call local police as a witness—or a victim—of crime, and how that would ruin good police work. One of the committee members responded, “Well, if they are here legally, they shouldn’t be afraid.” Representative Oliveira responded, “Yes, well there are over a hundred different kinds of visas that allow a lawful presence—which patrol cop is going to have the time to learn all of that?”

Terry Canales, a representative from Edinburg, while not a member of this committee, had also been loud and clear in opposition to this particular bit of legislation. His passion with regard to this attack on our communities appealed to many of those who had come up from the Rio Grande Valley to testify.

SB4 austin 2017IMG_1372One of those liking Canales’ words was a Brownsville neighbor who confided that “I don’t really like this public speaking stuff. This is not my thing. But I just can’t be quiet on this one. It is so wrong. We are not criminals, we are not even criminal suspects…but that is how they will treat us. So I gotta speak my truth.”

Over the past two months there had been loads of speaking truth to power. In the end, however, despite the powerful testimony from other representatives, police chiefs, sheriffs, bishops, physicians, teachers and citizens, the House passed the bill. Not only did the House pass the Senate version of the bill, but they went to the trouble to make it a nastier piece of work, insisting on an amendment that would allow a police officer to ask a child about his or her citizenship.

I believe that speaking truth to power is a moral imperative, but that it also does shape history, in its own way. But the damage done in the meantime by those in power is considerable. Part of this truth that must be spoken must be directed to the nation, to our state, and to the larger community so that these fellow citizens know full and well what is taking place in their names, in our names, in the names of all of us. This said in the hope that they would understand that those who suffer from these decisions have names, too, and have friends and neighbors and allies.

It is clear that the Anti-Sanctuary Cities’ legislation was purely an effort by a majority of the representatives to manipulate their constituents’ fears. There are no sanctuary cities in Texas; the few efforts to push back against cooperation with federal immigration officials was in the name of good police work and had little to do, unfortunately, in my opinion, with a heroic defense of the integrity of those communities which are home to immigrant families.

It is fair to classify the legislators that support this bill as Bible thumpers, for they will bow to the Word of the Lord at the drop of a hat—or at least to those words that happen to suit them and their cause of the moment. If truth be told, and it must be so, especially these days, the Word of the Lord has a lot to say about sanctuary. And while there are long arguments back on forth about just what the Bible means when it speaks about our moral obligations to strangers, it is clear to me that the author of sacred scripture could not countenance the criminalization of entire peoples for the purposes of advancing political careers. To the contrary, there are bushels of blessings and promises of prosperity for those governments that love the orphan, the widow, the hungry, the sick—and the stranger.

Santificado Sea Tu Nombre

Way of the cross and border patrol April 9 2004He estado buscando la palabra que describa a un padre de familia cuyo hijo le ha sido arrebatado.

¿Qué nombre se le da a una mujer africana cuya hija pequeña le ha sido arrancada por una redada de Boko Haram, o a aquel padre mexicano a cuyo hijo de dieciséis años han asesinado a balazos, o a aquella pareja de Washington DC cuyo hijo de trece años ha desaparecido? Pareciera no haber palabra, al menos en inglés, que distinga a estos padres de aquellos que sí tienen su hijo para abrazarlo por la mañana, a su pequeño que necesita que le abrochen la camisa, o su pequeña esperando que le trencen el pelo.

Me di cuenta de la ausencia de este término la tarde del domingo pasado, mientras daba un paseo a pie. Pasando por un parque de la localidad, me percaté de una mujer joven que jugaba a “los encantados” con su pequeña hija. Sus carcajadas se desplegaban por todo el parque bajo el dorado sol vespertino; una afirmación de la vida.

Fue la tarde del Domingo de Ramos, la que daba inicio a la Semana Santa, y al recuerdo solemne de la Pascua: ese tiempo en el que el ángel dio muerte a los egipcios para dejar escapar a las familias hebreas, protegiéndolas y, luego, subsecuentemente, para darles a los judíos el final impetuoso de liberarlos de la esclavitud del faraón, para así pasar a una vida nueva como seres libres.

Alguna vez alguien me dijo que el término “Pascua” quiere decir “estar protegido mientras se está siendo renovado.” Me gustó esa definición, y la recordaba completamente mientras veía a aquella niña pequeña, que irradiaba total felicidad en la presencia de su madre, de quien manaba un “¡Estoy protegida!” Dejé volar mi imaginación hacia un corto tiempo atrás, cuando esta madre dio a luz a esta niña, y entonces comprendí que al dar vida, esta joven madre estaba siendo hecha de nuevo. Todos estos acontecimientos, en conjunto, tan cotidianos y comunes, sin embargo, tan llenos de santidad – algo proveniente de Dios.

Esta experiencia contrastaba completamente con las vividas semanas atrás, de las cuales la única palabra que viene a mi mente para describirlas es “crueldad.” Primero, estaban las amenazas a los padres de los refugiados centroamericanos por parte del Secretario de Seguridad Nacional (Homeland Security) John Kelly. Los Estados Unidos, dijo, podría considerar separar a los de sus padres a los hijos de centroamericanos si estos se atrevieran a pedir asilo. Aunque la amenaza de esta acción fue encubierta detrás de una cuestionable invocación a la seguridad nacional, y a pesar de que Kelly se retiró de este intento de hacer daño, me parece malvado que un hombre con ese poder, considere posible el secuestro como un método viable de aplicación de la ley.

No obstante, a otros, envueltos en el negocio de la seguridad nacional, pareciera no importarles las implicaciones éticas, y continúan buscando formas en las que puedan seguir explotando a centroamericanos. El grupo GEO, una empresa de prisiones privadas, empeñados en hacer dinero a costa de los inmigrantes detenidos, apelaron ante el Texas House State Affairs Committee, la semana pasada, en favor de pasar una ley en la que se les otorgaría una licencia para la apertura de “Baby Jails” (Cárceles bebé) – como CARA pro-bono Project las llama. La empresa GEO necesita la licencia para que se les permita tener a los niños pasado el límite de tiempo permitido por la ley y, de este modo, poder obtener más ganancias por cada día extra que una familia pasa en la cárcel.

El testimonio de aquellos en contra de esta idea fue apabullantemente a su cometido; el testimonio de GEO fue una mentira perturbante. La encargada de la prisión se presentó como “la directora del programa”, y habló hermosamente de la “barra de ensaladas con dos tiempos” que la cárcel ofrecía a los presos. Otro “activista” a favor del proyecto habló de los 200 empleos que se perderían si a la baby jail se le forzara a cumplir con los estándares mínimos para mantener a los niños reclusos. El contraste entre la preocupación por el bienestar de las familias y el bienestar de los accionistas de GEO paso desapercibido.

Los testimonios se prolongaron por horas; de todo lo que vi, no recuerdo una sola pregunta o expresión de preocupación de parte de los miembros del comité en referencia a las condiciones a las que se someten las familias y los niños en estos lugares. Las cuestiones se centraban más bien en cuánto dinero hacía la empresa, cuantas instalaciones estaban operando, y ¿qué se supone que íbamos a hacer nosotros (¿los texanos? ¿Estados Unidos? ¿La comunidad de Believers?) con “esta gente” si no podíamos encerrarlos?

Si fueran los hijos de los empresarios del grupo GEO, o las familias de los legisladores las que fueran a ser encerradas o separadas, el proceso hubiera sido completamente diferente, incluso uno inconcebible. Nuestra imaginación social fallida, o el achicamiento colectivo de nuestros corazones sugiere (que “esos” niños pudieran ser “nuestros” hijos) muy difícil, si no es que imposible.

La Semana Santa, para los cristianos, termina con la celebración de la Pascua de Resurrección, la celebración litúrgica de lo imposible, la decisión de Dios de entregar a su hijo la vida eterna. La resurrección, considerada como un factor histórico por un enorme número de personas, debería ser socialmente transformador, una garantía de parte de Dios, como lo es, la intrínseca divinidad de cada ser humano. El mundo, especialmente el mundo de pobreza y despojo, continúa esperando esta transformación de corazones, de mentes, y de políticas. Siempre ha habido señales de que ese proceso está arraigado en el mundo, pero siempre parece haber quien se empeña en negar esa fe. Hay Semanas Santas, y hay muchas más que no lo son.

Los que vivimos en la frontera tenemos la fortuna de toparnos con eventos desconocidos en otras regiones del país. Tenemos la oportunidad de conocer a gente de gran valor, que ha dejado sus pertenencias y sus casas ancestrales para salvar su vida y la de sus hijos. A veces nos toca rezar con personas que viven el horror y la angustia de estar lejos de sus hijos. A veces nos toca conocer, en nuestra tierra tan especial, a alguien cuya circunstancia no tiene nombre – a una madre cuyo hijo le ha sido arrebatado, tal vez por un cartel de la droga, o quizá por la violencia en su país de origen, o acaso por las dificultades del viaje por México, o quizá por manos de los agentes de la patrulla fronteriza (ICE). El ángel del Señor no ha protegido a esas familias de esa triste tragedia en particular.

Mientras esta Semana Santa nos transporta a las celebraciones de la muerte y resurrección de Jesucristo, creo que es apropiado reconocer la santidad de aquellos que han sufrido el inhumano robo de un niño por parte del Estado. A su manera, muy específica, son parecidos a Dios, habiendo sufrido lo que sufrió Dios el Viernes Santo – el robo de su propia carne, el secuestro de quien tanto ama, la pérdida de una razón para vivir.

Algunos de nosotros esperamos ese día en el que no habrá necesidad de un término para los padres que han perdido a sus hijos. Esperamos ese día en el que ese momento impensable ya no ocurra más, y esperamos también por esa idea imposible de suplicar por alas para tomar el vuelo y pasar y proteger a aquellos que aún se encuentran en riesgo de esta tragedia que necesita un nombre.

Hallowed be Thy Name

0894f-cross02I have been searching for the noun that describes a parent whose child has been taken from him or her.

What name is given to an African woman whose little girl was swept away by a Boko Haram raid, or a Mexican father whose sixteen year was shot to death, or a Washington DC couple whose thirteen year old went missing? There seems to be no noun, at least in English, which would distinguish these parents from those who do have a child to hug in the morning, a little boy who needs a shirttail tucked in, or a little girl wanting her hair to be braided.

The lack of this term occurred to me this past Sunday afternoon while I was out for a walk. Passing through a local park, I watched a young woman playing catch with her just-past-toddling-aged little girl. Their peels of laughter rolled out through the golden afternoon sun, an affirmation of life.

This was Palm Sunday evening, the beginning of the celebration of Holy Week, and the solemn remembering of Passover, that time when the angel bringing death to the Egyptians “passed over” the Hebrew families, protecting them, and then, subsequently, giving the Jews the final impetus to flee their slavery under Pharaoh, to pass over into a new existence as a free people.

Someone once told me that Passover, means “being protected while being made new.” I liked that, and I remembered it as the little girl’s complete, total happiness in the presence of her mother sang out “I am protected.” I allowed myself to imagine that, just a short time ago, when she had born this daughter, this little girl’s mother was being made new. Altogether, while a completely, happily normal event, nonetheless, a holy one—something of God.

This experience was in complete contrast to those of previous weeks, when so much that, in my mind, can only be called “unholiness,” was set to come into play. There were the threats to parents of Central American refugees by Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly. The United States, he said, would consider separating Central American children from their parents should they dare to trust the United States with an asylum plea. While the menace of this action was whitewashed with a questionable invocation of national security, and while Kelly has since backed off of this intent to do harm, it seems evil to me that a man with that much power would entertain kidnapping as a viable method of law enforcement.

Others in the national security business, however, seemed unbothered by ethical considerations, and continued to search for ways to exploit the Central Americans. The GEO group, a private prison company that seems hell-bent on making money on immigrants in detention, went before the Texas House State Affairs Committee last week, arguing for the passage of a bill that would allow them to be a licensed “baby jail” (as the CARA pro-bono project calls them). GEO needs the licensing so that they can hold the children long past the maximum time allowed, as the company earns more profit each day longer the families are jailed.

The testimony from those against this idea was dismayingly on target; GEO’s testimony was disturbing in its deceit. The prison’s warden presented herself as the “program director,” and spoke of the lovely “salad bar with two entrees” that the jail offered the inmates. Another lobbyist spoke of the 200 jobs that would be lost if the baby jail was forced to comply with the minimum standards for holding children. The contrast between the concern for the well-being of the families, and the welfare of GEO’s shareholders went by unremarked.

The testimony went on for hours; from all that I watched, I don’t remember a single question or expressed concern from committee members about the condition of the families or the children in these places. The questions were about how much money the facility made, how many facilities were operating, and what were we (Texas? The USA? The Community of Believers?) supposed to “do with these people” if we couldn’t lock them up?

If it were the GEO group’s children, or the legislators’ families who were being locked up, or separated, this would have been an entirely different process, an inconceivable one. The failure of our social imagination or the collective shrinking of our hearts makes such a suggestion (that “those” children could be “our” children) difficult, if not impossible.

Holy Week, for Christians, ends with the celebration of Easter, a liturgical celebration of the impossible, of God’s decision to gift God’s criminal alien son with eternal life. The resurrection, considered an historical fact by an enormous community of persons, should be socially transformative, a God-given guarantee, as it is, of the inherent divinity of each and every human being. The world, especially the world’s poor and bereft, continue to await this transformation of hearts and minds and politics. There have always been signs that such a process is taking root in our world, but there always seem to be other undertakings that want to deny that hope. There are Holy Weeks, and there remain far more unholy weeks.

Those of us who live alongside the border are gifted with encounters unknown in the rest of the country. We get to meet people of great courage who have packed up their belongings and fled ancestral homes in order to save the lives of their children. We may get to pray with people who live with the horrific anguish of being away from their children. We may meet, in this special place, someone whose circumstance has no name—a parent whose child has been taken from her, perhaps by a drug cartel, perhaps by the violence in their home country, perhaps by the vagaries of flight through Mexico, perhaps by ICE agents or the Border Patrol. The angel of the Lord did not protect those families from that particular, tragic sadness.

As this Holy Week turns toward the celebrations of the death and resurrection of Jesus the Christ, I believe it appropriate to recognize the holiness of those who have suffered the damning theft of a child by the state. In their own, specific way, they are God-like, having suffered what God knew on Good Friday—the theft of one’s own flesh, the kidnapping of the most-loved one, the loss of a reason to live.

Some of us hope for that day when there is no need for a term for parents who have lost their children. We wait for the day when such an unthinkable moment no longer occurs, when this impossible idea begging for wings to take flight, to pass over and protect so many who yet remain at risk for this tragedy in need of a name.



So Much Bigger Than a Tweet

journalist green on thornA friend of mine invited my wife and I over to her home for some wine and conversation with a group of Mexican journalists. The reporters were in town for some workshops on how to avoid being murdered while they did their job. I don’t know of any crazier or more interesting people than Mexican journalists, and we were delighted by the invitation.

Being a reporter is one of the most dangerous legal occupations on the other side of the Texas/Mexico border. This is particularly true if the reporter is covering criminal activities, and especially if an investigation leads the journalist to look at the relationship between organized crime and elected officials. The Committee to Protect Journalists reports that more than 100 journalists were murdered or disappeared in Mexico since 2000. Rarely are those murders solved.

This group of journalists was true to form. A mix of veteran reporters and rookies, they were high-energy, engaging people. And of course they wanted to hear what we thought of the changes to American politics since the election.

Mostly, they did not want to talk about themselves, or the risks they faced. I pointedly asked a 24 year old what her parents thought of her career choice. She said, “Well they weren’t that excited about it at first, but then they saw that this was my passion and now they are still nervous, but I think that they understand.”

The most interesting person at the gathering was not a reporter, but the police officer that the group had hired as a security consultant. This big, redheaded man from Mexico City was the first Mexican police officer I had ever had the opportunity to have a conversation with. He had made a career out of challenging the corruption endemic to most of Mexico’s police forces and government entities. I asked him if he had ever gotten threats. He said, “Oh indeed. I published a book basically laying out the corruption amongst the highest ranks of the federal police and had to go into hiding for a year and a half.” I asked him how he knew when it was safe to leave his hiding place. “There was an election and a change of administration. But the new ones were no different than the other ones, so I had to go back into exile. That’s the nature of things now, and that is why I take these kinds of jobs, to be able to earn a little money to support my other project…where some buddies and I go out into the rural areas of Mexico and offer to train (for free) their police officers…they really have no resources, and it is our way to push back against the corruption.”

He ate a flauta and took a long drink from his beer. “You know, the only way things are going to change is for us to attack the corruption on every front. We have to train good police, we need to give citizens reasons to believe that Mexico can be a good place; we need reporters to tell the stories.”

It was a good party filled with good people. No one in the room was going to get rich doing the work that they had decided to do. More likely, some of them would be killed. But, in these times and in this place, this reporting work seems to have become even more important than in the recent past. These correspondents were not interested in simply tracking down stories of corruption, but like the best reporters, they were on the lookout for the connections, for the relationships, for the social threads that have created the tapestry of our lives at this moment in history.

For those of us who live alongside this southern border, this social tapestry is of one piece—the fate of Mexican border communities and Texas border communities are deeply woven together. The plots to create more border walls and to deploy more federal agents to “seal the border” display a disturbing, willful ignorance of this common reality that we share. Any news stories that layout the fantastical, wrong-headed nature of that project are important, now more than ever.

As we took our leave from the party, we ran into one of the reporters outside the house. He was leaning on my car, typing away on his phone. “So sorry, I was editing a story for tomorrow’s paper. We have to keep getting the word out,” he said, as he busily tapped away on the phone’s screen.

Now there is a man in love with his work, I thought, as we drove away. And then I hoped, I prayed, actually, that the policeman’s lessons would somehow help keep him and the others safe.

Ceniza en la boca, fuego en el corazon

4f4e8-marchbrownsville28412928229Después de la inauguración de un nuevo presidente, y con las claras señales de que sí va a comenzar una gran casaría de migrantes, los hijos de los inmigrantes se despertaron asustados. Una madre me dijo que su hijo regresó a casa después de las clases, llorando, alegando que no quería ir a México. Su madre, sosteniéndolo en sus brazos, le dijo: -No vamos a ser deportados. Somos ciudadanos de los Estados Unidos. Tu naciste aquí.

“Pero mamá,” insistió el niño, “El presidente va a deportar a todos los mexicanos. Soy mexicano.”

Otra mujer, una madre indocumentada de niños ciudadanos estadounidenses, dijo que sus hijos se negaron a ir a la escuela. “Tenemos miedo de que no vas a estar aquí cuando volvamos a casa”.

Es con este sabor de cenizas en nuestras bocas que los residentes del Valle del Río Grande se preparan para la Cuaresma.

Pero, antes de la Cuaresma, ¡hay Mardi Gras! un día en el que millones de personas en todo el mundo se vestirán con trajes, se unirán a desfiles, bailarán y simplemente disfrutarán de estar vivos.

Este fiesta de Mardi Gras, este año aquí en el Valle del Río Grande en el sur de Texas, 150 almas fuertes y miembros de la Red de Voces Unidas del Valle se levantarán a las 2 a.m. para abordar autobuses. Los miembros de ARISE y LUPE, del Proyecto Azteca y del Proyecto Juan Diego, de FUERZA del Valle y de ACLU, también se prepararán para un desfile -aunque muy diferente de los que suceden en Nueva Orleáns, en Mobile o en Río de Janeiro.

Estos buenos ciudadanos se dirigirán a Austin, la capital del estado, un viaje de seis a siete horas en camión.

Este es un viaje difícil para gente que trabaja, la salida de 2 am significa poco sueño, si es que duerme. Tomar un día libre del trabajo es una cosa difícil para los muchos que son trabajadores asalariados, y encontrar a otra persona para hacer todas las cosas que son necesarias para mantener a una familia es otra complicación en la vida complicada que marca la suerte del pobre.

Esto, sin embargo, es una comunidad de creyentes, personas que tienen una convicción fuerte de que todos estamos llamados a vivir como seres plenamente humanos y verdaderamente vivos que reflejan lo divino que la mayoría de estos 150 viajeros creen que todas las personas llevan adentro. Estas buenas personas comparten la convicción de que muchas de las propuestas que los legisladores de Texas están considerando con respecto a los inmigrantes son leyes que, de ser promulgadas, degradarían, deshumanizarían y aterrorizarían a muchas comunidades de Texas y a sus residentes.

Los proyectos de ley apuntan, específicamente, a las comunidades de inmigrantes, lugares como los pueblos y ciudades del Valle del Río Grande. Por ejemplo, la Ley 4 del Senado obligaría a las ciudades y condados a prestar a su policía a los esfuerzos del gobierno federal para aplicar la ley de inmigración. SB4, erróneo de tantas maneras, rompería la confianza necesaria entre un oficial de paz y la comunidad a la que sirve. Las ciudades más pequeñas de nuestra región, por el momento, tendrán dificultades para resistir la negación de las subvenciones estatales y las multas que se impondrán si la policía se niega a convertirse en agentes de inmigración. SB4 coloca a las personas responsables de la protección y la defensa de la comunidad entre la espada y la pared. Si el sherife acepta trabajar por la migra, las personas con familias de estatus migratoria mixta serán renuentes a cooperar con sus diputados. Si el sherife rechaza este pedido del gobierno federal, perderá una cantidad importante de fondos. No es que sea una decisión imposible (ver la reciente acción del condado de Harris). Pero “ser duro con los inmigrantes” esté en auge para la mayoría de los funcionarios elegidos en Texas, y si el proyecto de ley en última instancia ayuda o perjudica el bienestar de la comunidad—pues ni modo.

Los 150 peregrinos del Valle, y los cientos de otros que se dirigen al Capitolio forman parte de un esfuerzo colaborativo llamado Texas Together. Viniendo de todos los rincones del estado, formarán un coro de voces insistiendo en el rechazo de los electos irresponsables de aquellos que intentan ignorar los valores tejanos de vecindad, hospitalidad y optimismo.

Este desfile de carnaval marchando a de Austin no contará con flotadores o trajes. En cambio, presentará a personas que llevan en sus corazones un profundo sentimiento de rabia y coraje, y el poder de un pueblo cuyos hijos han sido amenazados.

Cuidado con el poder de aquellos cuyos hijos hayan sido amenazados.