About a month ago, I went on an alternative spring break trip to the Arizona/Mexico border to see the impact of immigration issues up-close. During the trip, we got a large variety of perspectives on things related to immigration-we talked with recently deported immigrants, spent a day with Border Patrol agents, talked with a Mexican factory manager and a Mexican union organizer, and more. We also got to see the border wall that separates Mexico from the United States.
I was discussing my trip with others and was asked the question “do you think it’s possible for both sides to ever work together?” And I started thinking about how the (metaphorical) wall that the different “sides” of the issue build between each other is often even stronger and thicker than the physical fence that separates Mexico from the United States.
What I saw on my trip was a lot of different people, working every day to make their lives and the lives of those around them better, doing things they believe are right and important. But often all they see when they look at each other is “the enemy.” We talked with immigrants who just want to make a decent living and provide for their families, or reunite with family members, many of whom are United States citizens. We also talked with Border Patrol agents who wake up every morning determined to protect this country from legitimate threats of terrorists and drug traffickers. And both of these perspectives are valid and important, but they can’t exist in a vacuum. If anything is ever going to get done, we need people from both sides to come together and talk and listen!
Instead, what happens is we stand on either side of our “wall” and yell at the other side, never stopping to listen to what the other side is saying, and definitely never looking them in the face. If you go to the border wall between Mexico and the United States, you can see through to the other side. But these walls we build between ourselves and our opponents don’t allow for even that. It becomes easy to dehumanize the other side when we won’t even look at them. It becomes easy to lump all those “illegal immigrants” or “corrupt border agents” together and disregard any valid concerns they might have.
I think the way forward is to tear down these walls that we create between one another. We need to see people on the “other side” as human, capable of love & joy, pain & beauty. We need to listen to them, hear their concerns and their stories, and try to see things from their perspective. Only then will we be able to come up with a solution that actually works. So do I think it is possible for both sides to ever work together? Yes, I do. But what it will take is taking a good look at the walls we put up to separate ourselves from other people, and then going through the hard work of tearing them down.
*To read more about our group’s experiences at the border, check out our group Tumblr page here!