June 2021. Director of our Asylum Program, Jessica Corley, reflects on our visit to The Wall.
The dirt beneath our feet is 118 degrees. I know this to be true because I am watching and listening to two well-dressed men who pulled up in their little red car right where I am standing. They both get out of the car and one of them bends over holding a small device, presumably some sort of a thermometer. He comments that the ground temperature would cause great bodily harm, very quickly, if someone were to lie there. I try to engage with them further, a bit curious about both their presence and their comments, but they are not interested. I turn my attentions back to the massive metal ugliness that makes its way up to the clouds to the north and the valley to the south, the legacy of our Government’s desire to separate us by a so-called wall. I see the concrete houses, the run-down cars and the small gathering of children through the slats. And although this desert side of the great metal structure that separates the two worlds is barren and sandy, the other side lays claim to a different kind of emptiness.
I am faintly aware of feeling a bit dizzy and a bit nauseous. Could be the heat, I think to myself, after all, the day before as I stood in the glaring sun, heat rising from the concrete, I was certain I was about to faint. But this was a different sickly feeling that starts in the pit of my gut and slowly, as I give attention to it, grows to an unbearably helpless feeling. This was the familiar alert in my body when I am about to cry tears of desperation, not for myself, but for those for whom I am honored to speak for, when their voices have been silenced. I remind myself that the ocean is made up of drops of water and that the beach is of grains of sand. I cry anyway.
The past four years have exposed the truth about many of our people. I tend to insulate myself with those who see the world as I do; that we are both a flawed species AND that we can choose redemption by working to repair our brokenness in both small and large ways, in both personal and global ways. When I look around at the other 13 women who stand with me at this moment, I know this to be as true as I know my name.
Our three day journey to the southern border with Mexico was intended to educate ourselves about the communities and organizations who provide humanitarian aid to asylum seekers entering our Country legally. The asylum process has been gutted by the previous US Administration in astonishing and profound ways. Their policies created a web of punishment and unabated hatred and fear of “others”. And now, as the new Administration begins to unravel some of the most egregious polices, we are able to bear witness to the goodness and kindness of civil society. We got to clap and cheer and yell “Bienvenidos” to the young men, women and children who passed the threshold doors between the two Countries. Some smiled sheepishly, some fist pumped into the air, and some just stared coldly, disbelieving their new reality. We got to visit sheltering locations on both sides of the border that seek to provide a soft landing for the grief that clings and eventually falls from the people they serve. In the evenings, we got to tell stories to each other relaying a conversation or insight we had about our journey. We got to be in community with one another, in sacred space that we created each time we sat together for a meal or a chat. We went as mostly strangers and came back as friends.
At one of the two times we went to the metal structure, I was standing next to someone in our group and she softly commented to me that she intended to ask the Creator why such atrocities were allowed. She wanted to ask the Creator why we were given the ability to construct walls between our fellow human beings and would we ever be able to heal from our trauma. She practices a different faith than me and I do not believe we are afforded such a dialogue upon our death. But I still wish I could know the answer.