It’s been almost a year since I began traveling down to the Rio Grande section of the Mexican border. It’s been almost a year since I crossed the bridge into Matamoros and began to seek out the migrants and asylum seekers for myself. In that time, I’ve talked to dozens of migrants, law enforcement officers, and Border Patrol agents. I’ve spent time with locals on both sides of the fence, both proverbially and literally. I’ve read histories of the border and looked at non-partisan research and generally tried to educate myself. I’ve watched the work of Team Brownsville, The Good Neighbor Settlement House and Sister Norma with their small armies of volunteers respond to the situation in the way their faith and hearts tell them is the moral good. I’ve visited detention facilities that I was not allowed to enter. I’ve listened to politicians rage in person and on TV. I’ve volunteered, handed out jackets to kids and I’ve walked along a few miles of the fence.
I’ve heard stories of both tremendous compassion and horrific cruelty.
Along the way I’ve been insulted a few times, had to break ties with people, and looked over my shoulder walking down the street. I was told by the Border Patrol media liaison that they were too busy and I wasn’t important enough to be granted an interview, but they would be happy to talk to me as long as I didn’t take notes or bring a camera. I’ve been pulled aside by people I’ve known for years and told that I should tell those “Mexicans” to stay in Mexico because “we” don’t want them here.
I’ve also had plenty of e-mails go unanswered when I’ve attempted to get some of this published outside of my own web presence. But, that’s what happens when you’re a nobody doing what nobody else wants to do. The point was to do the exact opposite of what most news organizations do. Play the long game and get to know people and the situation on a deeper level and then document it. There have been moments that I quietly smile, like the time a trusted source wouldn’t let the New York Times or NPR in the door, but instead told them to call me, (they didn’t) was one of the moments I realized I was doing something right.
All of that is to say that for a guy who speaks almost no Spanish, I’ve gotten a solid understanding of what’s going on at the border. If I’m being blunt, probably a lot more than most politicians and talking heads on TV. If nothing else, it’s enough to know that as a nation we’re not having an honest conversation about any of this. It’s easy to demonize and live in hyperbole. It’s easy to take an incredibly complex situation and to pull things out of context, just to boil them down to a tweet to enrage your followers and boost your clicks. It’s far too difficult and takes too much time to approach it with nuance and an understanding of culture and history. It’s easy to create chaos when you have no intention of seeking truth and doing the hard work to solve hard problems.
It’s also incredibly easy to sit on the sidelines, compartmentalize your ethics and cheer for your favorite team.
The problem is this path, I’ve learned, undoubtably means causing innocent people to suffer.
What I’ve really come to understand is that we’re not having conversations about the things that actually drive what so many of us are fighting over.
Nobody is talking about the cultural realities of third-world countries where two-thirds of the world’s population live or the dynamics of a border where first-tier and second-tier countries meet.
We’re not really talking about what’s causing a lot of these “two-thirds” countries to fail globally.
We’re not really talking about the multi-billion dollar drug and human trafficking network that feeds into the not just into United States, but globally. Nobody is talking about logistical brilliance and ruthless efficiency of the cartels that’s a lot more complex and sophisticated than swimming a river.
We’re not really talking about how people on both sides of the issue think that they’re the good guy.
We’re not really talking about the specifics of how the Trump administration’s policy created the mess that we currently find ourselves in.
We’re not really talking about the political left’s response is just more outrage culture with no substance.
But, you and me. We’re going to talk about it. For the most part, I’ve held my thoughts on these things until I really understood them. That’s something else we don’t do often enough. But it’s time we start having that conversation. Even if it’s just you and me.
I’m here for the hard road. More stories to come.