This weekend in San Diego and Tijuana, I gathered with hundreds at Friendship Park, which spans both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border. We came together for the 24th annual Posada Without Borders, to remember those who lost their lives crossing the border, and to call for humane and just immigration policies.
The Posada re-enacts the biblical story of Mary and Joseph, who were forced to seek shelter on the night of Jesus’ birth — much like many migrants today seek shelter to protect themselves and their families.
This year’s Posada Without Borders takes on new meaning. Just a few miles away, Trump’s 30-foot border wall prototypes stand facing Mexico.
Ironically, migrants seeking asylum regularly jump the primary border wall here precisely to turn themselves over to Border Patrol agents guarding the towering border wall models. Migrants young and old from Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Haiti, and even India have recently crossed at this location, seeking asylum.
Policies that prioritize enforcement have separated families, left people to languish in for-profit detention centers, and pushed migrants to cross through dangerous border areas, where they die horribly — over 7,200 men, women, and children since the mid-90s — in desert and mountainous terrain across the Southwest.
As Congress works to avoid a government shutdown, policymakers are considering more of the ill-advised proposals that have created this human rights disaster for migrant communities.
Funding bills put forward by both the House and the Senate include additional money for the ill-conceived border wall, as well as more Customs and Border Protection agents. This places San Diego and other border cities once again at risk from misguided policies that will further militarize our communities.
Polls suggest that U.S. voters oppose the border wall by 2 to 1. Congress should heed their constituents and those most directly impacted by immigration and border legislation.
Upholding the principles of basic human decency means listening to communities across the border region. They’re demanding:
— No increase in Border Patrol agents. This will only expand an unaccountable and corrupt deportation force that can operate 100 miles into the interior.
— Not one additional mile of border wall, as this will exacerbate the destruction of sensitive ecosystems, disrupt ancestral indigenous lands, and put people’s lives at risk.
— No expansion of immigrant detention centers, which have a long record of human rights abuses and are often run by for-profit corporations.
Instead of prototyping border walls, why not prototype friendship by building bi-national parks, as some groups suggest?
In place of expanding unaccountable deportation forces, why not invest in oversight mechanisms that prioritize civil and human rights protections, such as outfitting agents with cameras and turning the Office of the Inspector General into a robust and trustworthy investigative body?
Each year at the Posada Without Borders, participants read the names of migrants who have died crossing the border or while in federal custody. Families stand on either side of the border, reaching fingers through the fence to connect in prayer with loved ones.
This devastating reality can no longer be treated as normal. We must choose to address border and immigration policies with principled ideas, rather than add to the toxicity that has fueled Trump’s unabashed anti-immigrant rhetoric.
Just as the Posada honors the journey that Mary and Joseph took 2,000 years ago, let us today honor the journeys of migrants and refugees with welcome and shelter rather than persecution.
Pedro Rios serves as director of the American Friends Service Committee’s U.S.-Mexico Border Program in San Diego. Distributed by www.OtherWords.org.