Posted by Mark Beckwith on September 22, 2010
I am bringing a cross back with me from Arizona. It is made of wood, about 18” high and painted white. Written in Sharpie pen across the front is the name Jorge Cruz Becerril. His birth date is written on the top of the cross; and January 23, 2003 is written at the bottom, which is the day he died in the desert from a combination of heat and dehydration as he tried to make the crossing from Mexico to the United States. Jorge’s name was among 300 or so read aloud at a weekly prayer vigil held at the border between Douglas, Arizona and Agua Pierta, Mexico – each name represented with their own cross. We were told that nearly 2000 people have died in the last three years along the “Douglas section,” which is just 41 miles of border marked by an eight foot high fence. A cross has been made for each person who has died – and the vigil is a weekly witness to one of the horrendous costs of our broken immigration policy. I am also bringing back copies of a bishops’ pastoral letter on immigration (with corresponding theological resources), and a resolution which commits the Episcopal Church to raise $10 million dollars by Easter to help begin the reconstruction of the Diocese of Haiti (which is the largest diocese in the Episcopal Church). I have a copy of a “Mind of the House” resolution, requesting the Bishop of Pennsylvania to resign his office immediately and unconditionally, because the relationship between Bishop Bennison and his diocese is “irretrievably damaged” – after an ecclesiastical trial which found the bishop guilty of overlooking sexual misconduct thirty years ago but was overturned by an ecclesiastical court of review because the statute of limitations had expired. Our request to Bishop Bennison was a painful step to take – but it was taken as a witness to our holding one another accountable as bishops; and our commitment to “unequivocal solidarity with anyone who has been sexually abused or mistreated by a member of our clergy or by any member of our church.” So I am bringing back a lot of paper – which is the fruit of good and hard work, and – to borrow from our own mission statement, is a reflection of a deeper commitment to engage the world. Which is what 29 bishops did at the Mexican/Arizona border. In addition to the vigil, we visited a migrant shelter, which has provided support, food and water to some 17,000 people (in the last two years) who have been sent back to Mexico by the Border Patrol. We went to the Border Patrol facility – and heard first-hand from agents who have the daunting task of going into the desert to sort out drug smugglers from those who are just trying to get into America to find a job. We heard from a rancher whose patience has been tested by people trespassing and trashing his land. We heard from a woman who had recently been sent back to Mexico after having lived in Los Angeles with her husband for 20 years; where she worked as a quality control technician for all that time; where she gave birth to three children (all American citizens), and paid thousands of dollars over several years to lawyers who turned out not to be lawyers – not to mention the thousands of dollars she paid in social security taxes for a benefit she cannot legally receive. We went to a water station in the desert, on the Mexican side about fifty yards from the fence. The desert sand burned through the soles of my shoes. The driver of the water truck was a Mexican man who had been volunteering for this ministry for over seven years. He is well known in the community, which is a good thing because he got word out to the drug traffickers that he was bringing a group of bishops into the desert, and that they should leave us alone. Which, thank God, they did. Many of us expressed the hope that our trip to the border would yield greater clarity on the issue of immigration. In some ways it did. Our experience exposed the complexity of the issue. Our conversations and reflections revealed that while it is tempting to cast blame, there are no easy answers. The new Arizona law is an attempt for a quick fix – but from what I saw and heard, it has only made things worse. It has produced greater polarization and has generated toxic levels of fear. The Presbyterian minister who has organized the weekly vigils and who has carried out a border ministry for twelve years, told a story about a rather heated exchange he had with a local parent who was trying to decide whether or not to allow her daughter to go on a half-day mission trip to Mexico. “Do you support illegal immigration?” she asked the pastor. “I suppose I do”, the pastor replied. “Every time I buy lettuce, stay in a hotel or play golf, I am supporting illegal immigration.” He then asked the mother if she supported illegal immigration. There are so many feelings, opinions, postures and positions that separate us from one another. Sometimes it seems that we are all scattered across a desert of acrimony. As I bring the cross of Jorge Cruz Becerril home with me, the whole experience has brought home to me the importance and power of the cross. The cross holds us together – the living and the dead, the isolationists and the accommodators. It is the paradoxical symbol of an incredible human cost as well as the gateway to freedom. As the cross holds us together, we need to hold on to the cross – and carry its power into a fragmented world that needs our witness. Our commitment to the cross can reframe the conversation.