It is past 10 o'clock pm Mountain West time, and it has been a long day. I miss home incredibly right now, and I'm also trying to process what was a tough day emotionally.
We traveled to Nogales, Arizona this afternoon, one of a few significant American cities on the border here in this state. Well, I say American cities, but Nogales - like other border cities - feels very much beyond anything that any of us would characterize as American. The city skyline is littered with the glowing signs of Burger King and McDonalds, but even those places are culturally adapted to mirror the predominantly Latino community. I have lived near places like this before, including the near northside of Pasadena, but Nogales is in many ways a Mexican city on the United States side of the border.
Secondly, Nogales, Arizona is unimaginable to us because it is clearly a place under constant surveillance and watch. Even before entering Nogales, we passed by several security cameras up on a bluff overlooking Interstate 19. And, as you roll into Nogales, right before you is the wall between Nogales, Arizona and Nogales, Mexico. That wall is a dominant image to the eye and mind - made of beam after beam of steel - reaching twenty feet up into the air and running thirteen miles long. It's very presence communicates separation, crime, and enforcement.
Some of our cohort decided to cross the border into Nogales, Mexico. I chose to stay behind - having already crossed the border previously in my life, and - truth be told - feeling timid about putting myself in any risk of facing separation from my group or my country. It turns out I put myself at risk even without stepping foot into Mexican territory.
Those of us who did stay behind wanted to get a closer look at the wall, and we had been told by our guide from Borderlinks that she frequently takes groups up to the wall to get a first-hand look at the structure. So, taking her advice, we walked a few hundred yards down from the border crossing to a slight entrance between two gates. Our first mistake was deciding to utilize this small gap in the fence to get closer to the wall rather than traveling further down the gate to a larger opening. A few of us did not feel comfortable going through at this point, but whether by ignorance, stupidity or persuasion we all ended up walking the twenty yards across a small parking lot and went right up to the wall and began taking pictures. It wasn't more than three minutes before a security personnel approached us from behind, requested that we move away from the wall and asked to see our identification. He also inquired whether or not we knew that we were trespassing on federal property, an offense that he said could warrant a fine.
The next several minutes were very tense. About eight of us were forced to produce our Indiana driver's licences, at which point he wrote down each of our identification numbers and other information. Eventually, the mood lightened some, and the man told us that in all likelihood we would simply receive a warning. Although, even that is not certain since the man taking our information was actually a private security force hired by the United States government, not an official member of border patrol, or US customs. Nevertheless, the lesson was learned.
Later, a few other members of our group witnessed a Border Patrol agent ushering individuals away from the wall. This is - apparently - a change in border strategy. Allison, our guide from Borderlinks, assured us this was the first time she had ever been confronted and told about a violation of federal law.
In hindsight, I feel stupid - mostly that I did not really think through the significance of approaching the wall. But, I am also stunned - stunned at just how present was the sense of fear and terror.
One of the members of our group asked us all tonight, "Did that wall make you feel safe?" And every single one of us seemed to agree. The wall did not offer a sense of security. In fact, it only seemed to stand as a constant, living witness to the reality of danger and harm. It seemed to be nothing more than a highly-patrolled and elaborate fence to separate two different parts of the same city, divided by nationality but not really by culture or language.
Today, I was the stranger in a strange land, and I am full of questions and doubts and regrets. And, more than anything else now is that abiding wish. I just really want to be home.
I'm really going to miss being able to worship tomorrow with you. You have been in my prayers, and you will be tomorrow. Do continue to pray for us, for our nation, and for all individuals who are seeking to bring about peace, justice and mercy in southern Arizona.