Reflections on a SW Borderlands Tour 

February 25, 2019

I recently returned from a 12-day SW borderlands tour with 30 folks from Seattle Peace Chorus. The purpose of our trip was to see the border situation, volunteer with groups helping asylum seekers and deportees and bring the gift of music wherever and whenever we could.

We traveled to San Antonio and El Paso, TX (crossing the border at Juarez); Tucson, AZ (crossing at Nogales); San Diego (crossing at Tijuana) and Riverside. In San Antonio, we connected with RAICES and learned about their work as the largest immigration legal services provider in Texas (learn more HERE). They stand on the front lines of this advocacy work. We witnessed works of the Interfaith Welcome Center (IWC), which accompanies refugees at bus stations, airports and shelters. Many refugees who have U.S. sponsors have never flown, speak no English and have no idea how to navigate an airport. We were thrilled to raise a large amount of money for the work of RAICES and the IWC through two San Antonio concerts at United Methodist and Mennonite churches.

In El Paso, we learned of the work done by the Catholic Diocese through the Columbian Mission Center. On three different days, in small groups, we served breakfast at a refugee center, made sandwiches, played with children, used our limited Spanish to talk with adults and sang songs of peace, love and justice. It was impossible to hold back our tears as we watched their traumatized faces. We also travelled to the border wall, chatted with children on the Mexico side and sang one of our signature songs, “Bridges Not Walls.”

At the El Paso Diocesan Migrant and Refugee Services office, an immigration attorney told us about immigration law and how convoluted it is; it can take up to 30 years to be granted asylum. Laws keep changing, which makes their work even more difficult. We visited a refugee center in Juarez and sang for a group of people ready to start their asylum process. Many will be denied and turned away. I nearly wept as we sang them a Mexican lullaby. Our Go Fund Me page raised funds to donate to this Juarez shelter, Casa de Migrante.

In Tucson, we witnessed tons of community action to assist asylum seekers. Some of us volunteered at a shelter, some took a border tour to Nogales and others joined volunteers who leave food and water along the border. I joined a group that toured the Tohono O’odham Cultural Center and Museum, split in half by the U.S./Mexico border. In the evening we sang to a packed house at the Unitarian Church to raise funds for two shelters.

On our longest day we flew to San Diego, rented vans to drive to the border and walked across the bridge to Tijuana. We sang at a family refugee center and a shelter for 150 deportees (all men). How thrilled they were to hear us and see friendly faces! We left a donation for this center, Casa del Migrante, Tijuana. We walked back to the U.S. side, climbed back in the vans for a two-hour drive to our homestays in Riverside, California. Our concert with Riverside Resistance Revival Chorus raised more funds for Casa del Migrante. The next day we returned to San Diego, grateful to spend a little time in the sun before returning to snowy Seattle.

All you hear about how dire and unjust the border refugee situation is at the border is true. The “crisis” is NOT true, in terms of U.S. security and safety. Cities and towns along the border are not threatened and have lived safely with their southern neighbors for decades. The real crisis is separating children from their families and profiting from placing them in detention centers; we were not allowed inside a detention center. The difficult advocacy work continues, and I’m grateful to have experienced some of it firsthand. –Rev. Donene Blair

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