Today was packed with new experiences, relationships formed, and questions pondered thereafter. The events involved an informal meeting with El Paso Border Patrol officers, games with children at a daycare known as ‘El Jardín,’ a hike up ‘A’ Mountain, and an open dinner hosted by a church’s bookkeeper.
We woke up and rode to the El Paso border to meet with Border Patrol. Three Hispanic officers came out of a truck in uniform. The main speaker’s name was officer ****, and his two counterparts briefly added their own thoughts throughout the discussion. Officer **** started his statement of purpose as a border officer- to protect American citizens from threats that try to enter the country, to identify those who try to enter the country, and to rescue and aid those who try to enter the country before identifying and proceeding. He continued that an opening of communications between departments in El Paso had resulted in a decrease of complaints regarding abuse or unnecessary violence towards illegally crossing immigrants. He also discussed why a fence has been put up between El Paso and Juarez, and that it is not a foolish attempt trying to eliminate successful crossing attempts, but to slow down the incident and deter mass amounts of people, women, children, and the elderly from crossing. Also, after many immigrants would cross, causing a chase demanding all Border Patrol officers’ attention, vans filled with narcotics would drive over the terrain into the USA without a problem. He finished up by addressing legal opinion vs. enforcement; wanting to change the law is a different process than enforcing the law, and the two are separate efforts. His patriotism for US border sovereignty and dedication towards the safety of not only US citizens, but illegal immigrants alike definitely made his opinion regarded with an air of veneration and respect.
During the reflection at the end of the day, questions and skepticism revolved around the Border Control’s actions, intent, and overall presence in El Paso. This fence is meant to funnel people to the port in order to be identified, but the fence ends at the desert area too, a treacherous trek costing many immigrant and officer’s lives. Also, the question of whether an officer uses discretion during his job, or if following orders from the academy and their superior is a mechanical and absolute job, freeing them of moral scrutiny. This question of authority and how it’s practiced was concluded with the consensus that the immigration law must change and properly let in those who are allowed in order for Border Patrol to have a less morally daunting and controversial task.
The second activity involved playing games with children at a daycare center, known as ‘El Jardín de los Niños.’ El Jardín is the only five-star daycare in New Mexico, offering care for children of homeless or near-homeless parents. This daycare provides service to children regardless of the legal status their parents possess. New Mexico has a blighted educational system, with staggeringly low literacy rates, and most parents cannot supplement the education their child learns due to long hours at jobs. We played shaving cream baseball (a messy rendition of whiffleball) for a few hours and got to know the children. The children seemed gregarious, playful, and similar to any child in a daycare. The heavy implications of their situation did not noticeably affect their dispositions. The children were so incredibly excited to get attention for young adults like us, and left begging to stay and continue to play games with us. No political corruption or socioeconomics were discussed, just laughter and an unadulterated desire to know and learn from one another was felt in the purest form fathomable.
This activity was lighthearted in the moment, but upon reflection became slightly dark. We discussed what hardships these children would soon have to realize, and the implications of homelessness, poverty, and illegal status. A grave air of concern lingered when we talked about one of the children who had been attending for 6 months, the longest time to participate in the program, and what his future looked like. The question of why innocent and unsuspecting people must go through terrible depths of sorrow circulated internally.
A less societal or political activity followed- a hike on ‘A’ Mountain in New Mexico. The hike was fast, steep, and challenging. However, the reward at the top of the mountain was a surreal view of New Mexico and part of Texas. The mountains and valleys were so vast and majestic to look at, and the group split up having some alone time to admire the nature. This time was reflective, relaxing, and very humbling.
The last major activity was a dinner that Dorian, a bookkeeper for his church hosted, as he does every week for anybody who wishes to come in and eat a meal. Many different types of people attended, including an individual named —- that I spoke with for a long time. —- was a man dressed in an indigenous patterned t-shirt, a psychedelic jacket over it, and the headband a sushi chef wears around his hair. Due to his unusual dress and odd presence, I of course had to talk with him. He expressed his universal beliefs to me, mixing Catholicism, Native American folklore/spirituality, and Buddhism. He also discussed his struggle with substance abuse and involvement in alcoholics anonymous to help others make a recovery like he did. Who I met was an extremely spiritually intuitive man, with an extremely active imagination for artistic expression, and strong convictions to the point of polarization (I’m a fence-sitting sympathizer and only enjoyed his fortitude). Unfortunately, I often observe that those with extreme talents and persuasions can also gravitate towards extreme answers or measures when their situation doesn’t accommodate their desire to express. His intelligence and humbleness combined made it a very impactful story, making me second guess my preconceived notions of those I find extreme. The dinner was a great chance to meet a new person and make a connection with someone I usually wouldn’t associate with.
This day was full of growth, joy, empathy, concern, and questions that only sprouted into refined and more complex questions. Of course the latter is the discourse of life, and should not be viewed as a reason to abandon these questions, but an invigorating exploration of the complexity regarding society, morality, and the human condition. As the political motion whirs, the immigrants cross, and the patrol acts accordingly, the humanizing memory of El Jardin’s children playing in their carefree manner take form in my mind instead of what was once an abstract legal opinion. This issue is larger than the law, the patrol, the money that privatized detention centers make versus cartel income- this issue is children playing in daycare with a future in the hands of these forces mentioned. This is human life: criminal, innocent, civilian, officer, participant, complicit, the list labors on. My mind is in fight or flight for the children who might be separated and bounced around the legal system, the people trying to escape the blood-bathed Juarez, the USA’s capacity for 11 million undocumented immigrants possibly using social services and government resources, the responsibility of a country to take in people who want to work and make a better life versus the promises for those legally documented here, the drug war incarcerating millions of non-violent offenders to fill bed quotas in private prisons, and the governments (US & Mexican) getting ruthlessly beaten three-fold at their own game by drug cartels. To say the least, this issue is complicated, and every side has something to lose, and though the proportions are far from even or fair, the consequences to move any direction are bleak while the choice to stay idle kills many.