Editor’s note: This post originally appeared on Dr. M. Daniel Carroll Rodas’s blog on the Denver Seminary website. Permission was given by the author to repost.
From July 5 to July 7, I was in Tijuana, Mexico. I flew into San Diego, and then took a bus and then the trolley to the Mexican border. I met Josh Harper at the airport, and we rode together. Josh is the National Coordinator for InterVarsity Christian Fellowship’s Urban Projects. He and his wife and family are part of an intentional Christian community in east Oakland, CA, that live in a minority, under-resourced neighborhood. Josh has put together the Borderlands Project, which is designed to help students wrestle with issues related around immigration. It includes bringing students to the border to experience some of these realities first-hand and to interact with immigrants. One of the features of this project that is unique is that it involves US university students and Mexican university students. It also is structured to empower the Mexican students, as they are the ones who organize the activities on the Mexican side. The second half of the project takes place in the US.
The first afternoon in Tijuana began after lunch with my teaching for about an hour and a half on part of what the Bible has to say about migration and immigrants. To honor the arrangement, I taught in Spanish and then translated myself into English.
After the teaching time, we went to the Centro del Inmigrante, which is run by Scalibrinian missionaries. This is an order founded in 1887 by an Italian bishop, Giovanni Scalibrini, originally to minister to Italian immigrants to the United States. It is now a worldwide order with centers in many countries. There are several centers in Mexico and the US.
The Tijuana Centro del Inmigrante houses 80-120 recently deported men at any one time (There is another center for women.). They are given a medical checkup, legal advice when needed, and clothes. They can stay for up to 12 days. Everyone takes part in chores, and the center also provides a Catholic mass each day. Last year the center served about 9000 men. We were told that only a few decide to try get back to the US again. Usually, these are those with families–like one of the men I spoke to.
This man is a roofer. He had been in the US for 16 years and had four children, ages 6-17. Ironically, he lives in Oakland, only about 7 blocks from Josh Harper. He was stopped by a policeman while dropping off a coworker after a full day working. He had not broken any traffic laws but was simply stopped for a drivers license check. He was immediately taken away and was not allowed to notify his family. After three days, he was turned over to ICE agents (Immigration and Customs Enforcement), who allowed him one 3 minute phone call. He called his wife and asked her to bring some clothes–ICE allows deportees one suitcase–and then was deported.
He told me that he was heading back to the US the following Friday. He wanted to be back in Oakland with his family, to be with his children. He had lined up a coyote for $11,500 to get him back across. They were going to cross in a car, as the coyote knows of a corrupt ICE agent that will let them through.
What a broken and unfair system! This man was so earnest, so wanting to go to what has been home for 16 years. These are the stories that make it so clear, in so many different ways, that we need immigration reform for hard-working family people like this, and to fix how the border functions.
M. Daniel Carroll R. (Rodas) is distinguished professor of Old Testament at Denver Seminary and the national spokesperson on immigration for the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference. He is the author of Christians at the Border: Immigration, the Church, and the Bible (Baker Academic, 2008). A second edition will appear this December. He obtained his ThM from Dallas Theological Seminary and his PhD from the University of Sheffield.
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