Over 100 Mennonites cross border into Mexico during convention
by Anna Groff
During the first five days of July, 156 Mennonites traveled to the U.S/Mexico border through a Borderlinks educational delegation. Two-thirds of them went into Mexico.
Borderlinks is a Tucson organization that arranges delegations into the Arizona-Sonora, Mexico region. The participants traveled together from the Phoenix convention.
On July 3, one group witnessed the Operation Streamline process at a courthouse in Tucson where they saw 70 individuals handcuffed with ankles and waists heavily chained. Operation Streamline aims to process 100 undocumented entrants with misdemeanors per day and deport them.
That day, the judge called seven individuals to the bench at a time where he sentenced them to between 30 and 175 days in a detention center. The majority that morning had reentered the United States without permission, which is a felony.
Joanna Harader, participant from Lawrence, Kan., said observing the “dehumanizing and tragic” process brought her to tears, along with others in her group.
“They are criminializing migration,” she said. The lawyer she spoke with mentioned that by allowing the U.S. government to “herd” these individuals through the legal process, it opens up the possibility for this kind of legal treatment in other situations not related to immigration.
Another group that day spoke with a retired couple who volunteers with Tucson Samaritans, a humanitarian organization that assists migrants in the desert.
Legally, the volunteers can offer water, food and on-site medicine assistance to migrants, but they are not allowed to give out maps, compasses or provide any kind of transportation.
The group that went into Mexico on July 3 first visited Grupos Beta, an agency funded by the Mexican government that offers basic services to migrants to Mexico.
During the visit, they heard five men speak about their migration experiences—many of whom have spouses and children in the United States.
One man described the dangers of border-crossing in the desert that includes avoiding snakes and other animals, dehydration and rugged terrain. A cactus punctured the water bottle of his fellow migrant who lost all his water. The others shared their water with him, but were later discovered by a border control helicopter and captured.
The group also heard that most migrants crossing the border in this way hire “coyotes” who often lie about the length of the trek to the United States. Their main intention is to profit off migrants, not assist their migration.
Another man said that after he was caught for reentering, he was detained in a privately-run detention center where he cleaned and served food for an extremely low wage. He said that the facility was profiting off of his labor.
Others shared about the abuses they experienced in detention centers: not enough food or water, overcrowded conditions, disrespectful security and more.
That same group also visited HEPAC, a Borderlinks sister organization and community center in Nogales, Sonora. Pastor Tito Bojorquez and volunteer Elias Suasnavart gave a tour of the facility.
Suasnavart explained that the community needs child care and meal services, as most fathers migrated to the United States and most mothers work long 10-hour days in the Nogales factories, so young children are often left alone at home.
HEPAC also provides adult classes, workshops and a computer lab. The schools focus mostly on technological training to equip students for factory work, Bojorquez said.
“[The schools] are not giving people a place to think and reflect,” he said.
When Bojorquez arrived in Nogales in 1992 the fence between Mexico and the United States in Nogales was a short chain link fence that children tossed balls over. Now the wall is a 14-foot stelle wall build from resued landing strip material from the first Gulf War.
He faults the passing of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) for the division in the Nogales, the destruction of ecology and the unfair treatment of factory laborers.
The groups also visited the border wall in Nogales, Ariz., the Southwide Day Labor Center in Tucson, Scholarships A-Z in Tucson, along with other organizations and sites.