UU Justice Ministry Border Trip to Tijuana – March 27-30, 2015
Discovering the Ravages of our Immigration Policy
By Chalice members Sally and Dennis Brown
We met Javier at Freedom Park located right on the border in Playa, Tijuana Mexico on Sunday morning. For 44 years, Javier had lived in the United States as an undocumented immigrant, having come with his family from Mexico when he was very young. But ICE discovered and arrested him. For the sake of his wife, three small children and his successful construction business, he fought to stay in the US. But his attorney and ICE administrators convinced him to sign a document to “self-deport” to Mexico where (he was told) he could refile his case and be permitted to return. Once in Mexico he found that this was a lie: he may never be able to return. Every time he speaks to his children, they ask when he is coming home. We discovered we had something in common: Javier was from Boston, Mass. Until a year ago, Boston was our home, too.
Unfortunately Javier’s story has been repeated thousands of times since 2007.
We went to Tijuana for a weekend with 10 other UUs on a Border trip sponsored by the UU Justice Ministry of California. We came to learn about the US immigration policy from UUJM members and people living in Tijuana who have been directly affected. We met inspirational community organizers working to assist deportees. Some were deportees themselves. We had come to see for ourselves the terrible toll our misguided immigration policies has wrought on people like Javier.
On Friday afternoon at the First Church of San Diego’s South Bay Campus in Chula Vista just 3 miles from the border, we met our fellow travelers and our hosts for the weekend Mar Cardenas and her husband Gary Loutzenhiser. Mar and Gary are members of the First Church of San Diego and founding members of their South Bay Campus. Mar, who emigrated from Mexico to the US some years ago, and her husband Gary have been social justice activists in Tijuana for years helping deportees.
Mar and Gary drove us from Chula Vista to the border and then to their comfortable home in Playas de Tijuana only two blocks from the ocean. We bunked dormitory style and ate wonderful family meals Gary prepared. Gary and Mar host a number of educational retreats in their Tijuana home and have named it the Garymar Academy.
Over the weekend we visited several organizations, and met other amazing people, including:
Hector came to the US with his family when he was 5. He joined the Army when he was 17 and was honorably discharged in 2001. This qualified him to apply for citizenship. But before applying, he got in trouble with the law and was deported. All his family is in the US including his 9 year old daughter and his fiancé. Our current immigration laws offer no second chances. Hector realized he was not the only veteran deportee in Tijuana and founded “The Bunker” to offer assistance to veterans especially those recently deported. He runs it on shoestring budget.
Marisala lives in a very poor area of Tijuana. When her husband was deported, she decided to “self-deport” with her young US born daughter to be with him. Her husband works very long hours in a factory but earns very little money. Marisala is strong and resilient. She organized her neighbors and with the help of the US non-profit Corazon built a community center. It was there that she and her neighbors invited us to share a wonderful meal of tacos and rice and beans.
Each evening at the Garymar academy, Elli, a student minister and a fellow traveler, led us in a short worship service encouraging us to share what we learned and how we felt. These were important and deeply moving experiences.
On Monday morning our last day, we volunteered at Padre Chava a soup kitchen run by the Salesian order of Catholic Priests where breakfast is served several days each week. Here we discover that although Javier, Hector and Marisala live difficult and challenging lives in Mexico many others are in even worse situations. We fed nearly a 1,000 people including some families. Many are deportees living on the streets because they have no place else to go.
We came away from this weekend with new friends and a renewed commitment to work for an immigration system that is humane and fair.
As we at Chalice begin our work in Immigrant Justice, lets consider organizing our own weekend to Tijuana through the UU Justice Ministry. Are you interested? Please let Elizabeth know: DCL.ChaliceUU@gmail.com.