Border immersion experience puts human cost in immigration issues

By Steve Gust
The Sooner Catholic

Seeing first-hand the human cost of immigration has been a learning experience for Rachel Jones, Spanish teachers at Mount Saint Mary Catholic High School in Oklahoma City.

Recently, she was part of a Border Immersion Experience sponsored by the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas.

The Border Immersion Experience was organized by Sister of Mercy Kathleen Erickson and Columbian Fr. Bob Mosher. Since 1991, Sister Kathleen has served communities on the United States-Mexico border, and since 2009, she has worked on social justice issues with the Sisters of Mercy in Omaha, Neb.

During the immersion experience, Jones visited El Paso as well as the border town Cuidad Juarez. She said the contrast between the two cities couldn't be any more stark.

"El Paso is a beautiful city with beautiful lawns and across the bridge in the barrio is absolute poverty," she said.

Working in the Capitol Hill area of Oklahoma City, the teacher is aware of some of the challenges of immigration, including the DACA program of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. She found out about the border immersion program in September and signed on for the trip, which was held in early November.

Yet, she wasn't totally prepared for what she saw.

She was told immigration has slowed from Mexico, but increased from Honduras and El Salvador. The reasons are familiar for those who study the issue. An illegal drug trade with people in the United States leads to increased power for drug cartels. That triggers more violence in nations already rife with corruption and poverty.

Seeking a better life for their children, Jones said, many leave their homeland.

"I had seen it as political issue before, but there is a real human factor involved," she said.

Part of that problem is at detention centers where fathers are separated from children.

"They can't even get legal representation there because it's considered a civil matter," Jones said. "We're tearing families apart."

This realization is one of the reasons for the Border Immersion Experience, according to Sister Kathleen.

"There are so many dimensions to immigration issues in this country," she said. "Our immigration system is broken and back-logged. We have a history of recruiting workers from other countries when we need them and then deciding to deport them when we don’t."

From Jones's standpoint, she hopes the public will become more educated on immigration and, as Christians, treat the strangers in a hospitable kindly fashion.

"I think the public should know that the people coming here now are families," she said.

Sister Kathleen has spent years counseling detained immigrant women.

"That experience has changed my life and broken my heart," she said. "Immigration, I believe, is a spiritual challenge for the human race."

Steve Gust is a freelance writer for the Sooner Catholic.