Last week my partner Diana Bynum and our grandson Joaquin Leyva joined the Journey for Justice, a caravan organized by Witness at the Border to bring attention to the distress of migrants coming to the United States and to call for justice. The caravan travelled the entire 2,000 miles of the border.
Together with his grandmother Diana, Joaquin rode hundreds of miles, stopping at border crossings where local communities told them about the suffering of migrants and what they were doing to help ease it. For Diana, it was important to do something in this moment of crisis. To witness what was happening in other communities. Here in El Paso, Diana had volunteered many hours, feeding migrants, doing arts and crafts with children, making shoelaces, and more.
In a poem reflecting on that experience, Joaquin wrote
“On the caravan I
Saw new things.
Deserts filled with
Walls built to isolate.”
Diana and Joaquin returned from their journey to a crisis at this border, our home, El Paso. A few days ago, the Texas governor called in the National Guard who placed concertina wire along the border so that no one could cross. Each day, hundreds if not thousands of migrants wait on the international bridges on the Juárez side of the border. US immigration officials are releasing up to 1,000 migrants per day in El Paso and hundreds are on the streets as the temperature drops below freezing. Non-profits and churches are quickly organizing to provide shelter for the people on the streets. Shelters on both sides of the border are overwhelmed.
Many migrants are from Venezuela. Venezuelans are now the second largest group of migrants encountered by the Border Patrol, surpassed only by Mexicans. In the past eight years, millions of venezolanos have left their homes in desperation. They go to neighboring Latin American countries. They come here. In their home country, over 75% live below poverty, defined globally by the World Bank as $1.90 per day. The daily minimum wage is less an $1.00. Inflation is unbelievable. In 2018, it hit 130,060%. It hovers around 500% now. A cup of coffee is beyond reach of most people at the U.S. equivalent of $2.50. While that may seem affordable to us, it is more than a day’s wages for many Venezuelans.
The migrants wait. It’s ironic that the Spanish word meaning to wait and to hope is the same—esperar. The migrants here at the border do both. They wait, sitting on sidewalks surrounded by bags of meager belongings, covered in blankets, or in lines waiting to eat or be taken into the warmth of a temporary place to stay. And they hope. Hope that the long journey here will allow them to wait out the crisis in their country. Hope that they will be able to work and find security and stability. Hope that their children will thrive. Hope that someday they will be able to return home.
The border is always a place of contradictions. To live on the border is to be constant witness to the inhumanity of government policies and the generosity and kindness of people. El Pasoans are volunteering at shelters, and providing water, coffee, blankets, and coats from cars parked in areas where migrants wait. They donate meals to shelters and give of their time. It is a generosity of spirit that we have always shown on the border, perhaps because we have little. Perhaps because so many of us remember our parents and grandparents who came seeking a better life.
Joaquin ended the poem by writing,
“No matter how
Dim the light may be.
There is still a
Little bit of hope.
And a little bit we can do to help.
And if we can do
Just that, we can
As I drive past the hundreds of migrants on the streets of El Paso, I hold on to that little bit of hope. For them. For us.
Presented at Corazón, Historia, Raíces/ El Paso, Texas
November 5, 2022