No me puedes llevar? (Can’t you take me?)

 I summarize my time in Tierra Blanca by saying it was a period of daily uncertainty and questions. Here is a piece that I wrote while I was there exploring the limits of my work and the morality of human smuggling. I leave it to you to chew on while I go offline for a few days – please feel free to comment here or contact me to discuss.

¿No me puedes llevar al otro lado? (Can you take me to the other side?) ¿Me escondo en tu mochila?  (Can I hide in your backpack?) ¿Te casas conmigo para que yo pueda sacar papeles? (Will you marry me so I can get papers?) I face those questions and their variants every day I work with migrants – in Veracruz and Nogales.

Usually, knowing that they are half-joking, I respond with a joke. “You won’t fit in my suitcase” or “I only marry for love.” And sometimes I remind them: “If they catch you, they deport you. If they catch me, I go to jail.”

But in the midst of my typical responses, I stopped last week and asked, “¿Porque no los llevo?”  (Why don’t I take them?) Perhaps fear of the consequences? I am not crafty or cool-headed enough to outwit Border Patrol. But the fear isn’t the real issue. Even with a clear path and a guarantee that I wouldn’t encounter la Migra, it wouldn’t occur to me to help a migrant cross.

For two reasons: First, respect for the rule of law. In Romans, Paul calls on Christians to respect worldly authority. I want to change migration laws but I don’t think they are best changed by slyly breaking them. Civil disobedience is different because it is a public demonstration of law-breaking meant to create change. Smuggling migrants is not civil disobedience. I desire broader justice and not just perpetuating the same cycle for a particular individual. If I smuggle migrants, even for free, I am reinforcing an illegal system.

My second reason is more spiritual than philosophical. Simply put, I don’t see arriving in the US as an absolute spiritual good. Materially, yes. In terms of opportunities, yes. But in other categories the picture is murky. Does living illegally in the US add to or detract from one’s ability to understand God’s love and through that love recognize their own human dignity? I don’t know.

As someone who loves and supports people (whether or not they have US paperwork), who deeply desires spiritual and material justice, and who is against the system of abuse that is illegal immigration, I have never considered smuggling a migrant into the US.

But that bold declaration generates larger, more worrisome questions: is not my rationale for not helping them cross a judgment on their desire to migrate – a judgment I don’t intend to make? Is it not even more unjust that I have the privilege to view the issue from morality when migrants have to simply respond to their economic necessity? What is right? How do I love migrants well?

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2 Responses to No me puedes llevar? (Can’t you take me?)

  1. Peg Bowden says:

    Hi Joanna,
    You always ask the deeper questions. I have personally helped lost migrants who have wandered onto our desert property with food, water, and a roughly drawn map showing them how to get to Tucson. I’ve also made the decision that if I find a migrant in real trouble in the desert (dehydration, injury), I would transport them to the nearest medical facility, after calling 911 and informing the dispatcher what I was doing. I am a registered nurse, and so can assess when a person is in a serious physical crisis. I would not wait for the Border Patrol to show up and transport the migrant. As the Samaritans love to say, “Humanitarian aid is never a crime.”
    There have been many times when I have been tempted to just put a traveling pilgrim in my car and drive to a safe spot. But I haven’t done it. Our national policies are unjust, but I will work to change them to a more welcoming, humane approach to the migration of the desperate.
    –Peg Bowden

    • Thanks for your perspective Peg … this is certainly a question that you deal with more closely because you really are out on the trails. I think the distinction between “humanitarian aid” and “justice work” is both tricky and important … though I need to think about it more to better define the ideas.

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