by Laura Sansom

I got on a plane to El Paso, Texas before dawn on Sunday morning, feeling tired from being up so early and sunburnt from an impromptu beach trip the day before.
I was excited but nervous about the week to come. I knew that I would be staying at the Columban Mission Center, immersing myself in the culture of the border region and on one day crossing over into Mexico. I knew little else.

As a boarded the plane, I expected that I would return from this trip dejected and discouraged. In the weeks leading up to my trip, it seemed like bad news from the border, especially about family separation, was inescapable. Every time I scrolled through my Twitter feed or checked my favorite news sites, there was a constant barrage of it.

Laura at a family separation protest in downtown El Paso
Following what was going on at the border left me brokenhearted. I expected physically going to the border would be the same; the only difference now would be that my broken-heartedness would be from things I saw in person instead of online.

To some extent, my expectations were met. Many times, I did feel discouraged.

I talked to young Mexican children through the slits in the border fence. In shaky Spanish, I asked them their names, unable to comprehend why I needed to be separated from them.

I tried not to cry while listening to the statistics of deaths because of the drug-fueled gang violence in Mexico, recognizing that the privilege and security of my life has been a matter of chance.

I was frustrated when we visited an immigration court and I witnessed people’s cases for asylum being set for April or May of next year. I wondered where they would stay in the meantime. Would they be sent back to their birth countries to face once again the danger they were fleeing? Would they be forced to endure in a detention center?

There was one thing, however, I definitely did not expect to return with. I was overwhelmed with it by the time the trip was over: Hope.

We live in a world that separates babies from their parents and treats people like criminals for simply wanting a better life.

Participants from the delegation preparing a meal for migrants and asylum seekers staying at a local shelter.

But we also live in a world where a place like Annunciation House, a shelter for migrants, just can’t accept any more donations because they don’t have the room for them. On my tour of their facility, I saw its entire basement and pantry filled to the brim with donated clothes and foods.

It’s a world where places like the Border Network for Human Rights organize the Hugs Not Walls event, so that families who haven’t seen each other for years can hug each other, if only for a moment.

It’s a world where many volunteers gather each night at Nazareth Hall to serve a hot meal to migrants who are just getting off a bus from detention. There they are able to shower and sleep in peace, and get the help they need to figure out their next steps.

It’s a world where the Biblioteca Infantil, an after school program in one of the poorest neighborhoods in Mexico, which started with just a few children and a few books, has grown into a nurturing environment that has educated enough high school and college graduates to fill a whole wall with their pictures.

There are both good and bad things going on at the border. I came back from my immersion experience feeling more informed and equipped to advocate for my sisters and brothers who are migrants. And I don’t want to advocate only to fight against the impacts of negative policies and decisions, but I also want to give a voice and assistance to the positive work happening all around me.

Being close to border communities, building relationships with women and men working on the frontlines of justice for immigrants, refreshed me after a difficult summer. The everyday people I met at the border are a testament to the fact that there is so much you and I can do, no matter where we are, to support our neighborhoods on the border. For some ideas on how to get involved, consider signing up to receive a free copy of the Columban Center’s “Border Solidarity Toolkit,” which includes a number of activities for prayer, education, and action.

Laura Sansom was the Communications Intern for the Columban Center for Advocacy and Outreach in the summer of 2018. She attends Cabrini University.

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