Report from Tijuana: A (Near) 80-Year Old’s Experience at Ground Zero of the Immigration Crisis

Saturday, Jan. 11, 2020, 7:10 p.m.

Today near the middle of my 80th year, I’m off to Tijuana to work for a couple of weeks with refugees and immigrants at the border. I mention my age not because I feel old, but because 80 used to seem ancient to me. Yes, I’ve done lots of these fact-finding trips before beginning with our family’s six months in Brazil during the military dictatorship there back in 1984. Then there were all those trips to revolutionary Nicaragua beginning the next year, and many visits to Cuba. This time around, I find myself wondering if my age will be a factor in the eyes of my co-workers.

In any case, this is the first in a series of daily reports I plan to make on this blog site. I want to take readers with me on this particular expedition of first-hand observation and discovery.

So, I’m now seated on Delta Flight 2685, in seat 23B on my way from New York’s JFK Airport to San Diego CA. It’s a 5 hour and 45-minute flight. I’ll stay overnight in San Diego’s Gaslight District. Then, tomorrow I’ll cross over into Tijuana, and begin work on Monday at 9:00 a.m.

My plan is to join forces with Al Otro Lado (AOL), a Tijuana-based social justice and legal services organization whose task is to help asylum-seekers in their quest to find refuge in the United States. I’m not sure what my function with the group will be. I might end up sweeping, washing floors, making beds, working in the kitchen, and serving meals. That would be fine. But I’m hoping my Spanish will be of some use. (For the past six weeks or so, I’ve been burnishing my skills in hour-long Skype sessions with a wonderful Spanish teacher in Cuernavaca.)

My main task however is to learn. I want to build on what I’ve gathered throughout my professional life as a theologian, researcher, teacher and habitual traveler to Global South stress points.

More specifically, my past observations (during those long stays in Mexico, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Honduras, Brazil and Cuba) as well as my study with Global South thought leaders (especially in Costa Rica’s Departamento Ecumenico de Investigaciones and during my years teaching in an on-site Latin American Studies Program) have already taught me that today’s refugees are seeking escape from:

  • The effects of U.S. wars during the 1980s which destroyed families, church communities, businesses, towns, and entire countries. Those wars were aimed at keeping in power brutal dictators who served U.S. business interests such as Chiquita Banana. They were intended to prevent democracy from replacing the tyranny of Latin America’s wealthy classes allied with their counterparts across the U.S. border.
  • Gang violence inflicted on whole communities by the now decommissioned national soldiers and paramilitaries employed 40 years ago by the United States in South and Central America in the wars just referenced. [During the years of cooperation with the CIA and U.S. Army, those terrorists (that’s what they were) supported their illegal war efforts by deep involvement in drug trafficking – with CIA facilitation. Now, with the wars over, the former U.S. assets are simply continuing the work they learned all during those years of conflict – including the associated threats, bribes, kickbacks, death squads, assassinations, rapes, and torture.]
  • The devastating results of free trade pacts (like the North and Central American Free Trade Agreements – NAFTA and CAFTA) that have allowed the United States to e.g. dump cheap corn on the international market thus driving millions of small farmers off their land and into unemployment in big city slums.
  • The effects of climate change such as rising temperatures, hurricanes, floods, droughts, and forest fires, exacerbated by the entire Republican Party which insists not only on denying scientific fact, but on doubling down on the ecocide’s causes.
  • Domestic violence exacerbated by rampant unemployment (caused by those free trade deals) that has made mothers and their children absolutely desperate to escape the violent men in their lives.

Virtually none of those causes are explained to the American people. Instead, the multifaceted central role of the U.S. government and CIA in creating the crisis is completely overlooked as politicians and the mainstream media (MSM) ahistorically “explain” the problem in terms of freeloaders, drug dealers, rapists, gangbangers and general criminality.

Ignored as well is the undeniable moral obligation of the United States to make reparations by rebuilding the economies and infrastructures they’ve destroyed and by giving generous and easy asylum (not to mention jobs and cash payments) to the refugees manufactured in the process. WE ABSOLUTELY OWE THESE PEOPLE SHELTER, PROTECTION, AND RESTITUTION! THIS IS NOT A QUESTION OF CHARITY. WE ARE MORALLY OBLIGED!

As you can see, my project here is to help balance our MSM-cultivated ignorance by acquainting readers with actual refugees and immigrants and their full stories.

Please tune in tomorrow for an update.

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Mike Rivage-Seul's Blog

Emeritus professor of Peace & Social Justice Studies. Liberation theologian. Activist. Former R.C. priest. Married for 45 years. Three grown children. Six grandchildren.

2 thoughts on “Report from Tijuana: A (Near) 80-Year Old’s Experience at Ground Zero of the Immigration Crisis”

  1. Fantastic, Mike, wish I could join u but am pretty well debilitated with Congestive Heart Failure and can’t walk more than 100 meters sin dolor excesivo. I was diagnosed last April here in Peru with CHF and followed up with my cardiologist(s) in Peru, spent 9 days in hospital in Aug. and got a ton of meds and tests done, of course. Sad to hear about death of ur prophetic friend, John, whom I remember from my trip to your house years ago. Also lost my lifelong friend, Chuck BYRD, in Pgh few months ago. He, his wife, Ro and I grew up since kindergarten together and we actually stay with them when we go to Pgh. Couldn’t make it to funeral because I still wasn’t strong enough to travel. He was more than my best friend, he was/is my brother. Later in Oct-Nov we went to Pgh to see Ro, familia y amigas/os, later to NYC to see our Marco y su familia en Queens, then on to Bristol to stay with Buck and the boys and also to see Shaughn who is still in Nursing Home. Also PJ and Girlie came down to see us. Mike. I feel like I’m in a cave trying to reach u, please send me ur cell and email, gotta hear ur voice. Do u have WhatsApp.? I Will forward your blog to some Columbani. Do u ever hear from any of them? Love to Peggy, Maggie (whom I met at 1 of our reunions) and your sons whom I hope to meet 1 day. All the best, Mike. Love, L y P On Sun, Jan 12, 2020 at 11:09 AM Mike Rivage-Seul’s Blog: . . .about things th


    1. So good to hear from you, Larry. I remember Chuck Byrd from years ago, when he came to Silver Creek. Here’s hoping that you’ll soon be back to your old strong self. In so many ways, aging is a tough process. Here in Tijuana, I’m learning a lot — and being inspired by the young people (mostly women) who are so committed to the refugee and immigrant population. My phone # is (475)319-6013. And I’m still using my Berea e-mail: I still haven’t caught up with Whats App, but I’m getting signals from all sides that I should. I’m still using SKYPE. Towards the end of the month, Peggy and I will be taking off for a month or so in Florida. Winters are getting more and more difficult to navigate. But we’re enjoying CT and being so close to our grandchildren. Peggy’s going to join me here next week. Please give my love to Paqui.


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