They traveled, they witnessed, they listened and they cried. Just before the coronavirus outbreak, a group of 12 people from throughout North Dakota and northwest Minnesota traveled to the Mexican border. They met with migrants, those helping migrants, and border patrol agents.
The migrants are not “criminals” or “animals,” as President Trump has called them. They are desperate people fleeing life-threatening gang violence, and hoping for a new life. One migrant had three members of her family shot dead, while she miraculously survived five bullet wounds. Another migrant woman joined a peaceful protest in Guatemala and then those protesters started disappearing. Going back to Guatemala would be a death sentence.
“My gut hurts. I feel physical pain after hearing these stories,” said trip organizer Vicki Schmidt of West Fargo. “These are people with hopes and dreams. They have been physically and mentally traumatized, and they’re treated like vermin. I feel so hopeless, sad and embarrassed.”
One group member, Martha Castanon of Moorhead, was a migrant farm worker for 40 years.
“It brought me back to when I was a migrant worker,” Castanon said. “Seeing the poverty, the lack of water, and the injustices really bothered me. They said we’re not criminals. We’re just seeking a better way of life. It was heartbreaking to hear the stories.”
The Rev. Karin Moberg, who serves Lutheran churches in Walcott, Christine and Hickson, N.D., felt a calling to go to the border.
“We believe to ignore migrants is a contradiction of God’s will,” Moberg said. “I was powerfully moved by personal stories, the experience of traveling here, and how vulnerable they are. They came to our borders with lots of hope of being in a safe place, and they were not welcomed.”
One huge problem the group found is that the migrants are tossed around in a very confusing and inconsistent court system, designed to work against them. Many don’t have the money or transportation to make it to court. Otherwise, a migrant will show up for a court hearing, and that hearing is constantly delayed without adequate explanation.
“The problem is, our policy is a continuing moving target,” said Rep. Josh Boschee, D-Fargo. “The rules keep changing. We have underfunded immigration courts.”
“They shared how badly they were treated and the excuses as to why their court cases have been delayed,” said Rep. Ruth Buffalo, D-Fargo. “When you have innocent people whose lives are being ripped apart, our policies need to change. The criminalization and dehumanization of the migrants is disheartening.”
The group couldn’t do much to change the situations for the migrants, but just listening to their stories and offering love and support made a big difference. Up until now, the migrants felt nobody cared about them.
“I have never choked up or teared up more in my life,” said former Moorhead Mayor Del Rae Williams. “The inhumanity of it. All that was happening to these women and children and nobody cared. We don’t know how lucky we are.”
Indeed, we need to constantly remember how lucky we are.