Proctor Academy Mountain Classroom arrived at the Annunciation House to begin our Border Awareness experience with hopes of improving our general immigration knowledge, completely unaware of the stories and bravery we would be shown.
El Paso, y Ciudad Juarez just to the left of the skyline
Upon arriving one of the first things we noticed was the friendly people willing to converse and shed a smile. Our communication was limited, however, sitting together and enjoying culturally oriented meals broke down any language barriers. Their journeys and struggles were not apparent until we spent several days hearing a few tales of great hardship in order to make it to the A-House.
The names of everyone who went missing during the Dirty Wars in El Salvador. This banner lined the entire downstairs of the Annunciation house.
El Paso, Texas was highlighted as one of the nations safest cities with a population of over 500,000 in the years 2011, 2012, and 2013. Its neighboring city, not but several blocks away, is the city of Juarez. Juarez is ranked one of the world's most dangerous and violent cities, holding an average of 8 murders a day due to Cartel violence in the year 2008. As a group, we were fortunate enough to hear the story of a 20 year old woman, Maria, who fled the country to escape the danger imposed upon her by the Cartel.
In the most brief summary possible, her husband was threatened and eventually kidnapped by the Cartel for taking a stand against various illegal activities. Specifically, he aimed to create a foundation to combat the Cartels abduction of infants to either be sold or harvested for vital organs.
This was incredibly impactful for us as and just as important for her to be heard, considering the fact that police and border patrol dismissed her situation as commonplace and not a justifiable case for being granted asylum.
Pete and Dani converse with some residents on the opposite side of the border fence.
One of our visits during our time in El Paso was to an office that provides legal service for immigrants. We were walked through several scenarios of an immigrant trying to gain citizenship through various paths the government has established.
In Maria's case, chances are extremely slim that she will be granted asylum, much less become a citizen. One of the major reasons her case may be denied is because, after fleeing her house that had recently been shot up, she neglected to grab any documentation that the cartel has been threatening her. Unfortunately, the cartel did not send her a letter stating “We are the cartel and we have kidnapped your husband.” This is just one example of the excessive, and, to some, seemingly unfair process which an immigrant seeking asylum must go through.
"If they kill me, I will be reborn in my people"- Archbishop Oscar Romero, who was killed while delivering Mass in El Salvador.
On our second day we visited the Sin Fronteras (Without Borders) Farm Workers Center where we were introduced to a man named Carlos, who started this center many years ago. The center’s mission aims to provide a place for migrant workers to spend a night and aid them in finding a temporary job. Carlos explained that workers, documented or not, would rest at about 6 o’clock to then begin their work day at midnight. At this time they go out to a known area to be picked up by potential employers for the day to come. The average chile picker works from sunup to sundown making money off of quantity harvested, averaging about $35 a day. However, they must pay for transportation and lunch which is not provided by the Center. Although our food system can allow for extreme inequality and mistreatment, inevitably the consumer has the influence to perpetuate or stop this cycle of oppression. Carlos spoke of the value of food, not only as a commodity but also as a way to bring people together. By utilizing foods naturally found in one's area, it can be a source of identity, job creation and can establish a common bond within the community.
The border fence, usually reaching 18 feet above the ground
Reading an article can give you the cold numbers of the massive immigration dilemma that is so relevant to our country. However, nothing one can read or see on the TV can really paint a clear picture of what is truly going on along our nation’s southern border. What does make the image more clear, however, is hearing the pain in a woman’s voice as she tells her tale of survival, seeing the joy of people as they try so desperately to live with optimism of their uncertain futures, and the dedication we witnessed from a man whose sole purpose in life is to help his community and people. This is the power of Mountain Classroom.
-Thad and Eli