God says time and time again “do not be afraid.” That is the hardest commandment to follow here in the desert.
Before I came to Mexico (and I imagine even now) many people that I knew were concerned for my physical well-being. I have rarely ever felt unsafe in my very protected and limited routine between the apartments and el comedor. For migrants in Nogales, however, threats are everywhere.
There is fear of the mafia who controls this particular section of the border and charges every migrant a certain fee to try to cross. Non-payment carries dangerous consequences. Last week, we received information that a mafia member was eating at el comedor in order to survey the migrants. He was able to get past our security measures with very legitimate-seeming deportation paperwork (of course now that we are aware of his presence he is no longer admitted).
There is fear of coyotes who might turn into kidnappers. Yesterday, 15 migrants in total had been kidnapped at some point in their journeys. Some were held here in Nogales, others in the desert, and 4 were held for days in a house in Phoenix by coyotes demanding more money. Those in Phoenix were rescued by the police and then deported.
Then there is fear of bandits in the desert who will beat and rob groups of migrants. And to cap it all off the Mexican police who will pick up migrants off of the street and incarcerate them for days without food because they do not carry proper identification (or for no reason at all).
Living in fear produces mistrust. I register incoming migrants and a woman on Saturday refused to answer any questions. “But you are a gringa,” she said, “How do I know you won’t deport my husband?” Many migrants lie about their stories or refuse to give information because they have no reason to trust either gringos or their fellow Mexicans.
In an environment of fear and mistrust, God repeats: “do not be afraid.” Such a simple phrase. In the face of deep terror. It is almost impossible for me to tell migrants that they do not need to fear their fellow human beings. But I can start by telling them even when they cannot trust anyone, they can still trust in God. As I quoted in one of my first blogs in Nogales, “perfect love drives out fear.” Perhaps by first learning to love and trust God we can grow to realize that no one else has ultimate power over us. But in the interest of honesty I have to admit that this journey out of fear is a long one that I still don’t fully understand. Your insights and experiences are definitely welcome.