Three years ago today I arrived in Nogales, Arizona to volunteer and learn about the border situation with the Kino Border Initiative, a Jesuit-led organization which works with migrants on both sides of the border. I was actually supposed to get to Nogales on December 16 but my original flight to Tucson via Chicago was canceled due to fog in Chicago. Instead I was routed via Nashville and then Las Vegas to Tucson and instead of getting to Tucson at 11:30 am local time I arrived at 9 pm, which was 11 pm on the East Coast. While I got to Tucson that night, my luggage did not, and so I decided to spend the night in a hotel near Tucson airport and pick up my luggage when, as the airline suggested, it arrived on the next flight.
A few weeks after the trip I gave a talk about what our group had seen and experienced. If you are interested in watching the videos of that talk, they can be found at the links below:
When we went to serve meals and talk with migrants on the Mexican side of the border, we met many families with young children. These families endured incredible hardship to reach the US border from Central America or the Mexican state of Guerrero which is overrun with drug cartels. A few months before our trip to the border, our government was intentionally separating children from their parents as a way of disincentivizing people from attempting to cross the border -- even though seeking asylum is a legal right recognized by both US and international law. By December this policy was no longer being followed but US Customs and Border Protection was still illegally limiting the number of people each day who could come to the border and request asylum.
One of the questions people were asking at the time is “what kind of parents would expose their children to these kinds of risks?”. The risky journey on foot or in crowded vans for several hundred miles, the risk of parents being separated from their children, and so on. But as we were discussing this, one of the members of our group asked “what kind of parents would put their infant son in a basket made of reeds and float him on the Nile?” It was a great parallel -- when the choice a parent faces is between putting their child at risk or almost certain death, a risky journey is actually the rational choice. When the choice is family separation or death, family separation is also the rational choice. Through the years I have met many people who had been part of the Kindertransport which sent German Jewish children to the United Kingdom between 1938 and 1940, and many more of their children and grandchildren.
Next Shabbat we begin to read the Book of Exodus. The most-repeated mitzvah in the Torah is to love the stranger and not oppress him or her, because we are commanded to remember that we were strangers in Egypt. When we look at the other we are supposed to see ourselves and our own story, because all of us are created in the divine image.
As always, if I can do anything for you or you need to talk, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or 301-977-0768 rather than through the synagogue office. Although I am working primarily from home, I am happy to meet you at the synagogue by appointment.
Rabbi Charles L. Arian