During the first week of December, I traveled to the Arizona-Mexico border with 12 others from Harvard Divinity School as part of a course titled Border Crossings: Immigration in America. We spent five days in Tucson, AZ, and Nogales, Sonora, Mexico, learning firsthand about the various issues and complexities related to immigration. We traveled as a delegation to work with BorderLinks, an organization in Tucson that aims to raise awareness about the impact of border and immigration policies.
There were a number of profound experiences during our trip, but one in particular has stayed with me since returning home. On our first night, we had the opportunity to have dinner with John Fife, one of the leaders of the Sanctuary Movement. The Sanctuary Movement began in the early 1980s and protected refugees from Central America who were fleeing civil conflict when they couldn’t obtain asylum in the U.S. Congregations that declared themselves as official “sanctuaries” were committed to offering shelter, food, and sometimes even legal advice to these refugees, in defiance of federal law. John described his involvement in smuggling El Salvadorians and Hondurans across the border, and his adamant commitment to moral law over federal immigration policies. He continues to be involved with immigration reform in Arizona through organizations such as Humane Borders, which provides humanitarian assistance through emergency water stations in the desert so that migrants on the route will not die of dehydration, and No More Deaths, whose mission is to end death and suffering along the border, working under the belief that “people of conscience must work openly and in community to uphold fundamental human rights.”
I was really inspired by John’s story and have been reflecting on it since meeting him. I spend a lot of time thinking about what it means to be a Christian and how to live out my faith in the world, and to me, John exemplifies what it means to be a person of faith and moral conviction. I have tremendous respect for him and the other activists that we met because to them, being Christian is synonymous with taking action. It doesn’t mean separating your religious and personal life, and it doesn’t mean preaching one thing on Sunday, and acting otherwise the rest of the week. For me, the heart of my faith calls on me to stand with others in solidarity and recognize their humanity, regardless of their immigration status.
My time at the border also renewed my passion for interfaith work because I realized that this movement for change would be so much more powerful if more people acted out of their faith and values. During the trip, I had the opportunity to hear from, and reflect with, my classmates who represent a diverse array of religious traditions and secular identities. We may not agree on different theological points, but we were all convinced that what is important is to uphold the dignity of every human being, whether they are documented or not. Immigration is not just a political, economic, or social issue, but a human one. I hope that conversations about immigration will become more prevalent in classrooms, churches, mosques, coffee shops, dinner tables, and interfaith spaces, and that we can all act in accordance with our values to advocate for comprehensive immigration reform in our country.