After the political stunt from Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis this past month in sending asylum seekers to Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts, immigration is once again at the center of the news. If you turn on certain news channels or radio stations, you will hear about open borders and fearful rhetoric about the danger of migrants.
I always find these comments a bit amusing, but also sad. The language of open borders only works for those who have never been to the Mexican-American border. If anything, our border is over-militarized to an extent that it has caused the recent deaths of many migrants who have drowned in the Rio Grande River.
I am a board member with a nonprofit organization called Practice Mercy that works directly with asylum seekers in Reynosa, Mexico, across from McAllen, Texas, who are forced to stay in Mexico in horrific conditions where they are continually threatened by the drug cartels. They are not able to go to a port of entry to ask for asylum, so some are forced to pay the cartels to be allowed to cross the river – only then to be picked up by U.S. Border Patrol. Though we at the nonprofit traditionally worked with asylum seekers from Central America, we have increasingly been working with migrants from Haiti and even some from Russia and Ukraine.
At the camps, we pray for people, bring in supplies and do eyeglass clinics. Part of the work is just listening to stories and hoping that the volunteers bring back these stories to their communities. This past month when we were at the border, we met a man from Haiti named Jean (pseudonym). He is at the border with his wife who is six months pregnant. He left Haiti after the earthquake in 2010 and the chaos that followed it. He went to Brazil to find some work and support his family. His wife eventually joined him.
In Brazil, he worked in a slaughterhouse. Despite all the hard work, they could barely make ends meet and certainly could not do anything to support their families in Haiti on a salary of $250 a month. They decided to come to the U.S. They had to travel from Brazil through Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador and Colombia. In Colombia, they made the treacherous journey through the Darien Gap to Panama. While they were making the journey, his friend who was a pastor was killed by a gang member. Despite this tragedy they continued on, through Central America and into Mexico.
I could tell you many of these stories. There was the El Salvadorian mother with two children who watched as her daughters had to cross the Rio Grande by themselves rather than risk assault and abduction. And there was a young Honduran man who fled his country after being consistently pressured to join a gang. He had Border Patrol dogs chase him and almost died alone in the brush as he cried out to God for deliverance.
These migrants do not fit into the fear-based narratives you will hear from political opportunists like DeSantis. However, these are the real stories of those at the border. It has become a place of death and cruelty because we have made it this way as we continue to close our borders for those seeking shelter and, in the process, eschew our own heritage as a nation of immigrants.
But despite these obstacles, so many migrants have demonstrated resilience, faith and determination that I could only hope to have a small portion of one day. These are the type of people that will make the U.S. a beautiful and vibrant nation.
Summerville resident Will McCorkle is a South Carolina educator and immigration advocate.
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