Faith on the Border

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Pima Friends Meeting in Tucson, Arizona, is 60 miles (106 kilometers) from the International Border with Mexico. Our meeting is widely known for the leadership that our member Jim Corbett gave to the sanctuary movement in the 1980s, helping refugees from the civil wars in El Salvador and Guatemala find sanctuary in U.S. churches.

Tragedy on the border has continued ever since. The group Border Angels estimates that since 1994, about 10,000 people have died attempting to cross U.S.-Mexico border, seeking to join family members or find freedom from violence or poverty in their home countries. Seven private prisons have been built in Arizona in recent years, which have held thousands of migrants awaiting deportation hearings. We read and see the news: family members are separated from each other; the whereabouts of many children and many parents are unknown. As Friends, we wonder what we can do.

Pima Meeting experienced a renewal of energy for work on migrant justice issues in 2014 when our Peace and Social Concerns Committee wrote the following minute: “Pima Monthly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends recognizes the humanitarian crisis in our area brought on by the plight of refugees and long-term migrants from Central and South America who face detention and deportation, often resulting in deep personal hardship and rupture of families. Standing in solidarity with Southside Presbyterian Church and other faith communities in the area, Pima Meeting is open to exploring an active role in offering Sanctuary in its Meeting House or in the homes of Friends.   – Ninth Month 2014”

Rosa lived in sanctuary at Southside Presbyterian Church for over a year. Once a month, Friends worshiped with her in the round kiva chapel at Southside Church. Rosa’s faith and spirit inspired action, more than merely placing a “We Stand with Rosa” sign in front of the meetinghouse. Two of our long-time members became active in a migrant-support community called Casa Mariposa. One of the many services that Casa Mariposa provided was twice-monthly visits to Eloy Detention Center.

In early 2017, Pima Meeting engaged in a deliberate process to discern how we were being led to respond to the realities of migration. We wanted to focus on finding small steps that we could take. After careful consideration, we established a Migration Action Committee (MAC) in February. One of its purposes was to “Partner with other Tucson and Arizona organizations and faith communities in identifying and raising funds for people in migration, for example: provide food or meals, pay for emergency medical care, pay for immigration bonds.”

Some of our MAC members attended a young woman’s immigration bond hearing at the Eloy Detention Center and were moved to pay her bond. She was released from detention, reunited with family in the U.S., and the attorney from the Florence Immigration Rights Project facilitated the return of the bond money to us. We next partnered with the Shalom Fellowship in Tucson to pay a bond for Angela, a victim of trafficking who had been in detention for two years. Again, the bond amount was returned, and Angela now lives and works in Tucson, coordinating the Casa Mariposa Visitation Group.

These experiences led MAC to ask Pima Meeting to start a special fund to receive donations to pay bonds so that people in immigration detention could be freed to pursue their cases outside of detention. With the help of our Finance Committee, this fund was approved by the meeting.

Through the blessing of this bond fund, almost twenty people like Gerrado, Paula, Lewis, Wilmer, Dairon and Wendy have been freed from detention to stay with family and friends. Attorneys say that being out of detention weighs in a person’s favor when their case comes to trial. The money given for some bonds may never be returned to the bond fund, and that is where faith steps in.  ~~~

To learn more about the work of our Migrant Action Committee, see: https://www.pmm.life/MAC-updates

Bea Quiroga is a member of the Migration Action Committee of Pima Monthly Meeting (IMYM).

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