September 13th, 2019
Last week I went to the post office to apply for a new passport. My old passport is way expired. I haven’t used it since 1998. For two decades, there really hasn’t been any reason for me to cross the border.
Now there is.
As I was fumbling through the application process at the post office, one of the employees on duty asked me if I wanted the passport just to have it handy, or if I had a trip planned.
I told her that I was going on a journey.
She asked me where I was going.
I told her, “Mexico.”
She smiled, and then she asked me, “Oh cool. where?”
She gave me a funny look and asked, “Where’s that?”
I answered her, “It’s right across the border from El Paso, Texas.”
“Why are you going there?”
That’s a good question. Sometimes, even I am not sure.
I answered her, “I’m going with a group from a Catholic immigration organization. We want to see for ourselves what is happening with the migrants on the border. Since the current administration is not allowing any asylum-seekers to come into the U.S., most of the action is on the other side of the border.”
She looked at me and said, “Wow, that’s awesome. That’s great that you are doing that!”
I sighed, and said, “Well, it’s just something that I think I should do.”
She replied, “No, really, I think that it is great. I see the pictures on the news with those little kids, and it just breaks my heart. You know what I mean?”
“Yeah, I think I do.”
She went on, “Well, you have a good trip, and thanks for doing this. It sounds intense.”
Yeah, intense is the right word. Nobody yet has told me, “Have a good time!” Everybody knows better than that. Some of the visit will be a disturbing experience. That is guaranteed. I think that some people are glad that I am going there, because then they don’t need to go. Maybe, they actually want to go, but can’t. Maybe they hope to learn things through me, and that is fine. Not everybody can go to the border, and not everybody should go. I believe that those who do make the journey are meant to do so, for some reason.
As with many things that I do, it is difficult for me to believe that this trip will occur. I don’t believe that things will happen until they actually happen. I am old enough to know that plans seldom go as planned, and that reality often gets in the way of my hopes and desires. I expect to go to El Paso, but somehow I will be at peace if it doesn’t come to pass. It’s not really up to me.
Already, events are shifting. Our immigration group had a meeting a week ago. We had a conference call with a man, Chris, from Annunciation House in El Paso. We spoke with him about the logistics of the visit to the border. Some of the conversation revolved around money and travel arrangements. There were other topics discussed.
I asked Chris about how I should describe the experience. I explained to him that I am a writer, and that want to write about the migrants who are stranded in a kind of legal limbo right now. I told him that I wanted to talk with some of the migrants, and (most likely, through an interpreter) hear their stories. Chris threw cold water on that idea. He doesn’t want visitors, like me, asking the guests in the shelters questions about what has happened to them. First of all, they have suffered trauma, and they often they do not want to talk about it. Second, they require a certain level of anonymity. For various reasons, they want to stay under the radar. Chris emphasized that we are primarily concerned with the welfare of the migrants. Any other agendas we might have are not as important.
So, maybe I won’t be writing about the asylum-seekers who are now utterly lost in places like Ciudad Juarez and Tijuana. These people can’t go back home, and they can’t come to the U.S. I would love to hear their stories, but I don’t need to do so. I can just write about what I observe and about what I experience. That will probably be good enough.
I spent a couple days this week tutoring some Syrian refugee kids. I have been with their family for over two years now. I help them with their homework, and we talk about school. It’s to the point where I am like a crazy uncle who just shows up at their house sometimes. I’m good with that.
It’s odd, but I have never heard anybody in the family tell me the whole story of their journey from Syria to America. I have heard bits and pieces, but never the entire saga. I know that they trust me, but nobody in the family has had the desire or the need to talk about all that happened to them.
That’s all right. I don’t to know everything. I just need to be their friends.
I don’t need to hear the stories from the migrants on the border either.
I would rather be their friends.