Since the beginning of his 2016 presidential campaign, Donald J. Trump has promised to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. More recently, he has ordered 4,000 members of the National Guard to police the border. But these policies fail to address the fundamental reasons that people migrate. People continue to come seeking a more dignified life for themselves and their families.
Last year, the Kino Border Initiative, a binational migrant ministry in Nogales, Ariz., and Nogales in the Mexican state of Sonora, surveyed 7,756 migrants at our outreach center on the Mexican side of the border; 85 percent said that they migrated due to economic need. One woman from Central Mexico stated that she faced the choice of paying her rent or feeding her grandchildren. This reality drove her north to find a way to support her family.
These policies fail to address the fundamental reasons that people migrate. People continue to come seeking a more dignified life for themselves and their families.
At the same time, since the beginning of the Trump administration, the deportation of people already living in the United States has increased. K.B.I. survey data indicates that 35 percent of those deported to Nogales last year had been living in the United States for some time (as opposed to having recently crossed the border), up from 22 percent in 2016. One deported migrant could barely put into words the pain he was experiencing because of his separation from his wife and child in Arizona. He worries deeply about their ability to sustain themselves without him present. Motivated by love and with no legal path available to him, he is determined to cross back into the United States and to be reunited with his family.
Additionally, migrants continue to flee for their lives, especially from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala. The recent caravan of migrants from Central America coming north through Mexico is a microcosm of a much larger group forced to leave their countries due to endemic violence. A human rights advocacy group, the Washington Office on Latin America, confirmed in January that El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras remain among the most violent countries in the world, with impunity rates for homicide at 95 percent. Migrants leave these countries in response to gang threats against their lives and horrific murders committed against their loved ones. In recent years, they have increasingly sought asylum not only in the United States but in countries like Mexico and Costa Rica as well.
Pushed by economic need, family separation and horrible violence, people make the difficult decision to risk their lives by coming to the United States. President Trump’s determination to build a wall, to send the National Guard to the border and to separate children from families at the border does not consider the complex realities that force people to migrate north. The United States would be better served by policies that address the root causes of migration while respecting human dignity.
In his 2018 letter to migrants and refugees, Pope Francis called for “welcoming, protecting, promoting and integrating” those forced to travel to new countries and encouraged direct encounters with migrants, which are mutually transformative. One student on an “immersion experience” offered by the Kino Border Initiative wrote later about his initial skepticism and resistance to coming to the border. But after speaking with deported migrants in Nogales and walking in the southern Arizona desert and finding items that migrants had left behind, he wrote that he began to recognize, cherish and value their humanity more deeply—to such a degree that he went home determined to volunteer with immigrants in his own community and to do what he could to make a difference to help them.
In his book Immigration and the Next America, Archbishop Jose H. Gomez of Los Angeles writes: “Immigration is about more than immigration. It’s about renewing the soul of America.” If we can respond more effectively to the fundamental reasons people migrate while respecting human rights, we will be on the path to renewing our own souls, both individually and as a country.
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