Every time I walk across one of the bridges that connect the US and Mexico I become emotional, I feel a pang in my heart.
It happened the first time in October 2016 when I walked back over to El Paso after spending a few hours exploring Ciudad Juarez. I was staying in El Paso and traveling to Fort Bliss, a US army post that had transitioned into a camp to hold hundreds of unaccompanied children who had arrived in the US seeking protection.
I spent my days speaking with these brave kids as they described the violence that forced them to flee their countries, and the dangerous journeys they had survived to make it the United States.
One evening, I walked across the bridge separating the US and Mexico to explore Ciudad Juarez and have a drink with a colleague. As I walked across the bridge, I thought of the children who risked their lives, who survived assaults, kidnapping, deportations, and being stuffed into the back of tractor trailers—all for the opportunity to cross that border.
For me, with my US passport, it was a cursory check and a “have a nice day” from a Customs and Border Protection officer.
Last week, as part of my first scouting trip for Global Fund for Children, I visited an organization that works in the border community of Nogales, Arizona, and Sonora, Mexico, serving those arriving to our border and those deported from our border.
On the Arizona side, I met with the executive director of the organization, who explained the services that they provide and that most of their work is with deported migrants. If you are an adult and deported from one of the surrounding states, you will simply be dumped on the Mexican side of the border with your belongings and nowhere to go.
After learning about their programming, I got a ride to their comedor, or soup kitchen, on the other side of the border. It was full of men, women, and a few children. Most of them had just been deported.
I learned that the highest number of deportees they served was during the early years of the Obama administration. Nowadays, the numbers are lower but the deportees are often people who have been in the US for longer periods of time.
Some didn’t speak Spanish or remember living anywhere other than the United States.
At the comedor, breakfast had just wrapped up. Two men were speaking with a Mexican attorney because they had just been robbed and wanted to report it to the police. A US attorney was talking to two men who were arriving with their children to seek asylum.
One of the kids was a little girl who was probably about 5 or 6 years old and had the name of a pop star. She gave me a shy smile when I told her she was famous that and it was an honor to meet her.
I got to see the way the comedor operated, met the staff and volunteers, and helped carry in some toiletries that are given out to those who had just been deported.
When it was time to head out, I simply walked through the port of entry, flashed my US passport, said I had no items to claim. “Have a nice day,” the officer said.
I drove to my next appointment in Tucson in silent reflection. At first, I was heartbroken about the trauma that an imaginary border can inflict upon families, and about how my privilege as a US citizen isolates me from that trauma.
My heartbreak didn’t last too long because guilt does nothing to fix the problem. Instead, I focused my thoughts on those that are in border communities, serving people who have been impacted by border trauma.
I was uplifted by my own mission—to find organizations that are doing transformational work with adolescent migrant girls, and to support them in their work to build leadership among these girls.
With our support, immigrants—particularly immigrant youth—can change the systems that are inflicting trauma. They are brave and resilient. It’s up to us to recognize and support them.
Global Fund for Children (GFC) UK Trust, created in 2006, is a UK registered charity (UK charity number 1119544). We work to generate vital income, create new fundraising opportunities, and raise awareness of the invaluable work of GFC’s grassroots grantees. Our aim is to extend the reach of GFC in the United Kingdom, Europe, and beyond.
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