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December 18, 2018

On the Border: Part One

In honor of International Migrants Day, we’d like to share part one of this reflection from Maria Kisumbi, Senior Associate of Policy and Government Relations at Humanity United, on her recent trip to the U.S./Mexico border.

Part two of this reflection will be posted later this week.

My name is Maria Kisumbi: Ugandan, human rights advocate, Senior Associate, Policy and Government Relations at Humanity United, recent green card recipient, and even more recent visitor to the U.S./Mexico border in El Paso, Texas.

I and Melysa Sperber, my fellow HU colleague, were invited to tour the border as part of a team of funders that support the Four Freedoms Fund, which itself supports The Border Network for Human Rights. The Border Network’s mission is to ensure that marginalized communities in the Paso del Norte region know their civil, constitutional, and human rights, and to ensure that immigrant communities can assert and apply those rights to improve their quality of life.

I woke up bright and early, not knowing what to expect, or how much of the current rhetoric to trust. Is there a physical wall? Is there chaos at the border? Will it be a challenge to cross? Are criminals really flooding in?

Thoughts can quickly turn to fears. Will I be attacked at the border? Will my green card be challenged? Will I be allowed back in? Will I see my husband again?

Though my fears were legitimate, I made an educated guess that they were unfounded and boarded the bus.

Crossing Over

The ride to the border was short and before I knew it we were parked by the side of the bridge. We got out of the bus and began the walk across.

Crossing into Mexico was easy and no fuss at all. There is a physical gate, at which we paid pennies at a counter to cross over into Mexico. From my viewpoint, I couldn’t see what we would encounter on the way back.

We walked for about ten minutes, and my worries returned. This time I was not alone, as with me was a naturalized citizen who was also scared of being denied entry into the U.S. The narrative on immigration has continued to evoke fear even amongst those who have legally gone through the immigration process. We had the privilege of having two senior immigration attorneys walking by our side to offer support just in case – a privilege very few of those who cross from Mexico into the United States can claim. I personally experienced how valuable groups like the Border Network for Human Rights can be, even just to allay fears.

Crossing Back

At the top of the bridge, two Customs and Border Patrol Agents checked our papers and then let us through. There wasn’t any chaos. No flood, no invasion of criminals – just a heavily guarded gate, and strict but peaceful order. For us, anyway.

An official from the Border Network for Human Rights informed us that foreign citizens seeking asylum were sometimes turned back at that position by the Customs and Border Patrol Agents. This made me raise my eyebrows because, as a signatory to the 1967 U.N. Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees and through the U.S.’s own immigration law, the United States has a legal obligation to provide protection to those who qualify as refugees. The Refugee Act established two paths to obtain refugee status—either from abroad as a resettled refugee or in the United States as an asylum seeker.

After this stop, we proceeded to the customs area where the Customs and Border Patrol officer processed each one of us. It would have been impossible for us to travel back into the United States without passing through a web of military checkpoints. Again, no chaos.

This “chaos” narrative is critically important to challenge, because it leads to mistrust and dehumanization of migrants. Mistrust and dehumanization create vulnerability, and vulnerability creates victims.

Many of those I met at the border were fleeing victimization, only to encounter it again.

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