In Tucson, immigration is more than just a debate

In Tucson, immigration is more than just a debate

Andrew Clouse – 05/13/13

Mennonite Mission Network

On November 2, 2012, Katrina Goering traveled to the wall that marks the border between Mexico and the United States to remember the death of Jose Antonio Elena Rodriguez. Jose, a 16-year-old Mexican boy was shot seven times by the U.S. border patrol the week prior, accused of throwing rocks at the border guards.

At HEPAC during a delegation meeting in November. Starting from the top sitting is Emma Stahl-Wert, standing next to her is Carrie Nelson, Jonathan Harnish, Katrina Goering in the front and Darlene Logston is the farthest to the right.

On the night of the vigil, even a cold, steel wall couldn’t stop the flow of solidarity between the people on both sides as they lit candles, sang, and tearfully told stories of Jose’s life.

For Goering, a Mennonite Voluntary Service participant in Tucson, Ariz., this is the story that best sums up the complexity of life at the border.

“It was a place of solidarity, frustration, tears and fear, but there was also joy because where there is more than one and where there is light, there is hope,” she wrote in a reflection after the vigil.

Goering, an Eastern Mennonite University graduate from Columbus, Ohio, has spent her term working for BorderLinks, an organization whose mission is to raise awareness about the impact of border and immigration policies.

As the program organizer, Goering leads delegations to the border, facilitating interactions with people on both sides that are affected by current immigration policies. The sweltering desert town where her unit is located is one of the places in the United States where immigration policy is not just political theory, but a hard reality for many residents.

“There is a movement—a social justice movement—happening right here and right now,” Goering said.

Goering typically leads one delegation a month, tailored to each group’s interests. On the Mexican side of the border she schedules meetings with migrants who have recently been deported, and visits the Home of Hope and Peace, which provides a safe space for children whose parents work 12-hour shifts at the maquiladoras (U.S.-owned factories) that dot the U.S.-Mexico border.

Goering schedules meetings on the American side of the border with immigration and civil rights attorneys, undocumented students who face unique challenges in attending college, and people around Tucson and Phoenix who are engaged in solidarity work.

They also visit prisons where unauthorized immigrants are held, sometimes for years, with limited access to an attorney.

One of the most emotional visits is to the Tent City Jail, an open-air detention facility where Maricopa County houses the overflow from the overcrowded private detention centers. Goering wrote about one of her recent visits on her blog:

Our last delegation day included a visit to the Tent City Jail. I guess you’re never really prepared to see that sort of thing. You don’t want to believe it’s happening, that it has been happening for the last 20 years. We walked up to the vine-covered chain-link fence to see what was inside. It was as if someone had taken a snapshot photo of a concentration camp. There are watchtowers and warning signs posted everywhere. The worst was looking inside at the conditions that people live in. The detainees were walking around in their striped uniforms. Only women were visible from where we were standing. They sleep in dark green army-looking tents with rusty bunk beds. It doesn’t look like there is air conditioning or heat. They started shouting out for help when they saw us.

Goering says that she sees the work she does as peacemaking at a macro-level.

“In my mind, education is one of the best ways to change big systems,” she said, “so I think we’re hitting at all levels down here. I know I can’t change the world; I can’t change whole systems, but if we just start, we can make a difference.”

The MVS unit in Tucson is hosted by Shalom Mennonite Fellowship, a congregation dedicated to finding ways to bring reconciliation to their neighbors, whether that is through supporting immigrants, or fixing homes for elderly folks around Tucson.

“Shalom has long been a congregation where life and faith and peacemaking have been very much co-equal pieces of the pie,” said Bryce Miller, Shalom’s pastor. “And I think that is in no small part due to the fact that Shalom has long been a beneficiary of the MVS experience, where MVS is bringing mission and peace and justice and community into a single experience.”

For Goering, the MVS experience has helped her make realizations about the nature of her faith.

“I think I’m getting to a point where these social justice issues are extremely important to me and I want them to be a part of my everyday life,” she said. “It’s a key component to my faith, and a key component to my relationship with God—making peace with myself, the people I live with, the people I go to church with, the people I work with—it’s a way that I’m connecting with all of those different entities.”