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.

This Is What A Good Samaritan Looks Like (Sunday Homily)

Today’s Gospel selection, the familiar story of the Good Samaritan, couldn’t be timelier.

It’s read at a juncture in American history, where a Christian acting specifically according to the teaching of Jesus’ parable faces 20 years in prison. His crime? He provided food, water, lodging and hospitality to people whom the Trump administration would rather see die of thirst and exposure, because the president considers them sub-human.

I’m talking about Dr. Scott Warren (pictured above), a humanitarian aid volunteer and immigration rights activist. For years, he has worked with an organization called No More Deaths (NMD). Its members leave water jugs, clothing, and medical supplies for refugees and immigrants crossing the Sonoran Desert in southern Arizona. Warren and NMD also keep track of the numerous cadavers they find there and have filmed U.S. border agents emptying more than 3000 NMD water jugs in their clear effort to create more deaths by dehydration. In fact, those border agents are the sadistic executioners who staff Mr. Trump’s concentration camp system. (Watch what they do in this film clip. Doesn’t their sadism remind you of the Nazis we’ve all seen in all those WWII movies?)

Coincidently, I guess, and soon after filming the murderers, Warren was arrested and tried for aiding two undocumented migrants. A hung jury failed to convict him. However, the Trump administration wants the man retried – again, for the crime of obeying Jesus’ mandate in today’s reading. (In fact, most reports of Warren’s case specifically invoke the imagery of “the Good Samaritan.”) His second trial will take place in November.

The sad irony is that so many of Trump’s supporters consider themselves Christians. Their single “Christian” issue seems to be abortion about which Jesus and the Bible in general says absolutely nothing. Nothing at all! And yet, when someone obeys Jesus’ clear and unambiguous teaching as in today’s Gospel, they want Jesus’ follower punished to the full extent of the law whose essence Moses describes as Love in today’s first reading.

It’s like what happened in Germany after Hitler came to power. There, the birthplace of Luther and his Reformation, Christians not only enthusiastically approved of der Fuhrer; they worked in his concentration camps. And then (as Elie Wiesel puts it) after cremating Jews all week, they went to confession on Saturday and received communion on Sunday. They could do so, because, mirroring Trump’s attitude towards immigrants, they believed Jews were sub-human.

That’s the same attitude Jews themselves in Jesus’ day had towards Samaritans. They were considered enemies of the state, because their ancestors back in the 8th century BCE, intermarried with Assyrian occupiers of the Jewish homeland. Intermarriage rendered Samaritans unclean. They were as sub-human as Trump’s immigrants or Hitler’s Jews.

So Jesus’ making a Samaritan the hero of his challenging parable, and contrasting the outcast’s compassion with the “couldn’t-care-less” attitude of professional holy men – the priest and the Levite – connects directly with the hypocrisy of Christians, the Trump administration, and those border agents all of whom have criminalized the fundamental human right of immigration.

No; I’m wrong:  they’ve actually criminalized God’s law of love as described throughout today’s liturgical readings. Read them for yourself here. In any case, what follows is my “translation” of their main ideas:  

 DT 30: 10-14
 
The Great Liberator, Moses
Exhorted the former slaves
To return to LOVE
The most obvious, uncomplicated
Reality
In the world.
 
PS 69: 14, 17, 30-31, 33-34, 36, 37

Love is all we need
From Life Itself.
It is always kind
And helpful
Overflowing with gifts
And ready to protect
The poor, the imprisoned,
The exiled,
And those in pain.
Yes: All we need is Love.
 
COL 1:15-20
 
Jesus, the Christ
Shows what Love means –
That absolutely everything
Was created for Love,
The bond, the glue
That holds us all together
In complete at-one-ment
Transforming the human race
Into a single body
Despite resistance
And crucifixion
By a hostile world.
 
LK 10: 25-37

For Jesus (like Moses)
Love of God and Neighbor
Is the only law
Promising fullness of life.
The two laws are one.
Being “neighbor”
Means rejecting
The ignorance of
Professional holy men
And politicians,
Adopting instead
The compassion of
The very minorities
We’re taught to hate
Who provide
Health care, transportation,
Lodging, mercy
Follow-up,
And money,
For those they have every reason
To hate.
That’s what it means
To love Our very Self!

Moses was right: Love is really all we need. It couldn’t be clearer. Jesus was right: Love is God’s only law. There is no other.

Trump, his followers and agents are wrong. They are criminal.

Or as the Master put it in another place (MT 10:42) “And whoever gives one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward.”