Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove on the Family Values We Need at the Border

The Rev. William Barber II, center, and other leaders of the Poor People’s Campaign pray with migrants in Juarez, Mexico. Photo by Steve Pavey

Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove lives in Durham, N.C., where he is an author and founder of the Rutba House, a house of hospitality. His most recent book is “Reconstructing the Gospel: Finding Freedom From Slaveholder Religion.” The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of Religion News Service.


Sixteen years ago, when I and other human rights advocates were deported from Iraq by Saddam Hussein’s regime just days before its collapse, we were welcomed into a United Nations refugee camp on the Jordanian border, where we received medical attention, food and accommodations in spacious air-conditioned tents.

The same can’t be said for those staying at the makeshift camp at the U.S. border in Juarez, Mexico, where 200 migrants from Central America and Africa have found temporary shelter.

When we arrived there on Sunday (July 28), we met migrants in the dirt courtyard outside a block building without air conditioning and heard their stories under the desert sun.

I had traveled to Juarez with fellow leaders of the Poor People’s Campaign, the Revs. William Barber II, Liz Theoharis and Robin Tanner, as well as Imam Omar Suleiman of the Yaqeen Institute, Rabbi Rick Jacobs of the Union for Reform Judaism and Shane Claiborne of the Red Letter Christians network.

We were there at the invitation of the Border Network for Human Rights, a grassroots advocacy group that has organized in the borderlands for more than 20 years.

In each of our religious traditions, we minister to families in the midst of marriage and child-rearing, sickness and death, economic hardship and unexpected tragedy. The migrants we met in Juarez have faced challenges that would threaten any family. They shared stories of gang violence, domestic abuse and political turmoil in their home countries, along with the trials of their precarious journeys through Mexico.

These families made it to the border to apply for asylum in the United States. Against all odds, they arrived at their destination only to learn that the Trump administration has implemented a new “Remain in Mexico” program. This policy requires asylum-seekers who have a hearing scheduled in the U.S. to wait across the border in Mexico.

The families we met have hearings scheduled in October and November of this year. Until then, they have been told to find a way to keep their families safe in one of the world’s most violent cities.

The Trump administration’s “Remain in Mexico” policy took effect around the same time Juarez experienced a spike in gang violence.

A year ago, when it was widely publicized that U.S. Customs and Border Protection was separating migrant children from their parents, the public outcry forced the Trump administration to officially change its policy.

Though families continue to be separated, the official policy shifted to incarcerating families together.

This led to the extreme overcrowding and conditions highlighted by members of Congress. They found migrants have been left in processing centers for weeks without access to showers, toothbrushes or a bed. “Remain in Mexico” is the Trump administration’s response to the outcry against this humanitarian crisis.

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Source: Religion News Service