Back to Top

Pro-Life series: Migrants at the Border

Imagine this:

You are running in the dark. You are out of breath. Your heart is beating fast and you are desperate and anxious. You have not eaten in days and you are dehydrated. You cannot remember the last time you spoke with your family. Your knees are bruised and you have cactus spines all over your skin. Then you see lights. You are yelled at in a language you do not understand, handcuffed, stuffed in the back of a vehicle, and detained. You are placed in a cold holding cell for hours and then returned to what you had been escaping from; poverty, violence, and fear. You feel defeated and hopeless.

This reality is true for thousands of migrants crossing the United States and Mexican border every single day. Here is the true story of two women I met at the Migrant Resource Center (MRC) in Agua Prieta, Sonora, Mexico who have lived this experience.

Maria and Martha walked into the MRC with a plastic bag filled with their personal belongings. The MRC welcomes migrants and provides them with basic humanitarian aid and resources after they have been deported from the U.S. The sisters were both cold and soaked. They had just been detained and deported after walking through the perilous, inhospitable Sonoran desert for over three days during the coldest time of the year. More than fifteen years before, Maria and Martha had moved to North Carolina without proper documentation. They had originally migrated to the U.S. for a better life and economic opportunity. Since then, both sisters had given birth to three children in the U.S. and had started their own healthcare business. Then the sisters received news that their mother, who lived in Mexico City, was sick. They had not seen their mother in fifteen years and decided to return to Mexico, knowing that it would be extremely difficult to return to the United States. Ten days after arriving in Mexico City, their mom passed away and they said goodbye to their last connection to Mexico. While mourning her death, they paid a coyote (a professional people-smuggler) thousands of dollars and began the trek to return to their families in the U.S.

The militarization of the border has changed migration dramatically in the past fifteen years. It is nearly impossible to make it over without being detained by border patrol agents. “Pensaba que me iba morir” (I thought I was going to die) said Maria. The freezing temperatures during the desert nights up in the mountains made for a risky journey. Their coyote began to vomit as he guided the group of ten people, including children who were without their parents. They slept on the snowy mountains and ran out of food and water. They finally arrived at their area of destination but someone called ‘la migra’ and everyone in the group was detained and sent back to Mexico.  

The sisters left the U.S. two days before President Obama announced his Executive Action, known as DAPA (Deferred Action for Parents of Americans). Both sisters have tried everything they can think of to become ‘legal’ in the United States. Unfortunately, the broken immigration system gives them no opportunity to “do it the right way.” The only quick option available for them to get back to their families is to risk their lives and walk days in the hazardous desert.

The border between the United States and Mexico is about 2,000 miles long. One third of the border is covered with a wall and billions of dollars have been spent building and maintaining it. The 1994 Border Patrol Strategic Plan aimed to prevent migration through deterrence: a wall was built and border patrol increased at the places where border crossing is safe. But the sea, desert, and mountainous areas were left without a wall -- these places are dangerous to cross. But it did not work. Migrants still cross -- they feel they have no choice -- but this plan has resulted in more deaths. More than six thousand people have died on the border since 1994. The deaths continue.

If it is so dangerous, why do people continue to cross? "Love is strong. It makes you capable of crossing borders, mountains, seas, with nothing in your hands," said a family member who lost a loved one crossing the border. Sometimes crossing the desert, sea, or mountain is safer and more bearable than starvation, separation from family, lack of opportunity, violence, and war.

One important reason that explains this migration crisis has to do with NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement). This agreement came into place in 1996. The goal of NAFTA was to remove trade and investment barriers between the U.S., Canada and Mexico. The U.S. benefited in many ways, while Mexico, especially farmers, suffered economically. Over 2 million farmers lost their livelihood because they could not compete with the extremely low prices that foreign corporations offered. Many farmers attempted to migrate north, hearing of available jobs in the ‘maquiladoras’ or factories built en masse along the border after NAFTA. The pay at these factories is extremely low -- so even those who are lucky enough to find work there are still unable to provide for their families. The lure of crossing the border -- where better wages and a better life are promised -- is constant.   

Every day at the center I hear about human rights violations that vulnerable migrants suffer. They tell me stories of being detained by border patrol, kept in near-freezing cells for long periods of time, being denied medical attention or food or water, being forced to sign documents without a translator, being sent back to their place of origin. I hear daily about coyotes who charge migrants thousands of dollars,only to assault or abandon them. I hear tales of Mexican authorities who extort money from migrants. The sanctity of human life is violated on the border every single day. Dreams are interrupted, families are separated, and division continues because of ignorance, complacency, apathy, and the human-made wall.

I walk past the wall every single day and I listen to the unspoken messages it sends: “We don’t want you,” “Keep out,” “You are not welcome.” Occasionally, I will see people try to cross in the evening, only to be detained by border patrol agents shortly after. I see birds fly over the wall and road runners cross back and forth. Animals have the freedom to come and go, but people made in the divine image of God are kept out.

I hear stories every day of mothers who are separated from their children, fathers who have left their families in Mexico to provide food for their families. I see people who have broken legs as a result of falling off of the wall. I see  toddlers being detained with their parents. People’s rights are abused and their dignity and respect lost due to their desire for a better life. And each and every one of them are just like you and me. They are not criminals, rapists, or money-hungry people who come to steal jobs. They are people whose deepest desire is to provide a better life for their families. They are selfless, brave individuals who are willing to die to protect those they love. Their love is that strong. And that love reflects the love that Christ himself has when he migrated to earth to provide for His children.

Migration has happened from the beginning of times and it will always happen. Walls will not stop people from coming. Instead of focusing on how to stop migrants from entering the United States, we should focus on why people are trying to come: reunification with family, violence in their home countries, and lack of jobs. Unfortunately, we have criminalized migrants. Instead of viewing them as human beings, we see them as threats. As a nation of immigrants, we should have the opposite view. As followers of Christ, we should follow the countless passages in the Bible instructing us to welcome the stranger. After all, Jesus himself was a refugee and a migrant.    

As a church, we are called not only to be reactive but also proactive. We have the privilege of contacting our representatives and reminding them of the importance of immigration reform. As the body of Christ, we have an opportunity to be a part of restoring people’s dignity. We can start by teaching English to immigrants, befriending immigrants and refugees, listening to stories, and re-humanizing migrants instead of criminalizing them.

Another simple way we can help is by buying coffee. Café Justo is a coffee cooperation that focuses on providing Mexican coffee growers a fair wage by selling their own organic coffee directly to clients, therefore preventing potential migrants from having to leave their homes and families in the first place. Every migrant's dream is to go back to their place of origin and buying this coffee provides that option for many families in Mexico. For more information, check out

This is the 16th post in our "What Being Pro-Life Means to Me" series! What does being pro-life mean to you? Over this fall, we'll hear various writers respond to that question. Learn more and subscribe for weekly email updates. 

[Image: Flickr user Grant]

The Reformed family is a diverse family with a diverse range of opinions. Not all perspectives expressed on the blog represent the official positions of the Christian Reformed Church. Learn more about this blog, Reformed doctrines, and our diversity policy on our About page.

In order to steward ministry shares well, commenting isn’t available on Do Justice itself because we engage with comments and dialogue in other spaces. To comment on this post, please visit the Christian Reformed Centre for Public Dialogue’s Facebook page (for Canada-specific articles) or the Office of Social Justice’s Facebook page. Alternatively, please email us. We want to hear from you!

Read more about our comment policy.