Solidarity Across Borders June 7, 2024

The issue of immigration is polarizing, yet critical for our country. I have had the opportunity to travel to Mexico to observe and engage in two different experiences that offer a window into immigration on our southern border. While I am still processing my experiences, and I know I have much yet to learn, they provide different perspectives, encourage provocative reflection, and stimulate possible actions.

My first experience was a trip to Nogales, Mexico with a group of Basilica parishioners. It was a transformative trip offering opportunities to hear stories of families preparing to cross the border into the U.S. Coming from many different countries, their individual and collective desperation was profound. Their deep, resilient desire to escape their trauma—leading them to risk it all and cross the border, even with very small children—was stunning.

One of my biggest take-aways from this trip was a glimpse into the reality that it didn’t matter how many walls or penalties the U.S. put in the way of migration; people will still come. The depth of their desperation and lack of real alternatives leaves the treacherous trip to the U.S. as a viable choice, held in hope. Good, sacred, hardworking, loving people will seek to choose life, by crossing the border into the United States.

My second trip was to Tijuana, Mexico in May. I traveled with the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate to their mission in southern Tijuana. Here, I began to see an alternative to building walls and inflicting penalties. I saw courageous, passionate, and faith-filled investment in people and opportunities.

Tijuana is the second most populous city in Mexico, and the most violent. While there are many factories, as a dominant manufacturing center for North America, it is a city of extremes.

Our time in Tijuana was spent on the southern edges of the city. Poverty is profound. Even people working earn so little they cannot sustain basic family needs of food, medicine, transportation, or education. The practice of squatting is prevalent, with families assembling extremely vulnerable and insecure structures to live in, on vacant land.

The Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate has several chapels throughout the area and one main parish. As they listened to the stories of the people in the area, they began to imagine and create programs to meet their needs. These programs emanated from and put flesh around the reality of God’s unconditional love and constant care.

As they hear of a need, they respond. Families are hungry: they pack and distribute countless bags of food. The community was ill, with fragile health: a health clinic was created. Children with mental health or disabilities were left abandoned: a special needs school is developed.

Fr. Jesse Esqueda, Pastor of the parish, explains as acts of charity are offered in community, people seek to get engaged and desire to give back. There was a tremendous spirit of hope and resilience in those we met.

A main focus for the Oblates is their work with youth and young adults. Scholarships are provided to attend local colleges and universities. There are young, vibrant, talented Social Workers, Doctors, Nurses, Engineers, Lawyers, and other professionals—all graduates coming back to inspire and pull up the whole community.

Fr. Jesse explained, as people migrate north, many find themselves settling into Tijuana. He described the experience of Haitian migrants being welcomed in the community. Not an easy transition, but with the help of the Oblates, life is possible.

We are invited to consider our solidarity across borders. Our immigration struggle is complicated. What happens in one place impacts all.

Fr. Jesse Esqueda is coming to The Basilica on November 10th. He will speak at Masses and offer a forum to learn about the needs of the community and how they respond. Please, mark your calendars. You will be inspired.

Janice Andersen
Director of Christian Life