In 2014, I went on a human trafficking raid with Operation Underground Railroad to the Dominican Republic. In the years since, my feelings about the organization have become complicated. I’ve never written about this because, frankly, I didn’t know if my white middle class discomfort should have any negative impact on an organization that could take even one child out of the world of trafficked children. I didn’t know if my qualms with method and motivation had a place. I still feel this way.
Last week Operation Underground Railroad posted a quote across social media from its founder, Tim Ballard, in support of building the wall. It was a quote pulled from a Fox News article where Ballard argued for the construction of the border wall to help stop human trafficking. After being published to the hundreds of thousands of people that follow OUR, the quote was featured on The White House’s official FB account. Last week, I spent hours - days - writing a rebuttal. Someday, I might post it. Right now, all I’ll say is that there is no expert consensus that a wall will help do anything meaningful to stem the bloody tide of trafficked sisters and brothers. Some argue it will make it worse. But honestly, that’s just not the point. Reasonable minds can differ on the best way to address this scourge. I believe OUR is full of reasonable minds.
Rather today, I want to post a letter written by a hurting Mexican American sister. She saw the OUR post the first time because she follows the organization on Instagram. She saw the post dozens of times afterwards when church leader after church leader, friend after friend shared it on their facebook pages and instagram stories. She wrote to me because she was afraid to say anything on any of those facebook pages, instagram stories because whenever she requests or suggests nuance when discussing immigration she has been met with racism both subtle and sinister. She was also afraid to offer public constructive criticism of OUR when they are so venerated in her part of the country. Can we just sit and weep over that for a moment? I can’t imagine that is an outcome that OUR would support or wishes to sustain.
Sisters and Brothers. I would suggest that we are doing something wrong if our neighbors are afraid to express their pain to us. I would suggest we are doing something wrong if we are more intent on defending soundbites than on extending the circle of our protection. I would suggest we are doing something wrong if we’ve made anyone feel like it is better, SAFER, to be silent and sorrowful than spoken and supported.
And finally, before we move on to this good sister’s good letter, can I just say? If you are a leader in your church, odds are you have one or two OR MORE undocumented families living under your stewardship. Please decide (and help the leaders around you decide) that those families come before any political conviction or border security idea you hold, no matter how dear.
When you are called to be one of the Lord's shepherds, you are asked to put away many things. Sharing posts supporting building the wall is one of them. If you feel passionately about creating safe places by building walls? Great. You can get back to the secular work of wall-building when you are no longer claimed by the call of God. Return to it only AFTER you're released from the spiritual work of making sure everyone feels they have found a sanctuary in your care - no matter how they came to be in your congregation. That is the safe place you are in charge of right now. Please protect that place, those people within it, even more fiercely than you think a wall will protect our border.
The letter writer has chosen to remain anonymous because she is tired and afraid. This letter is about a post about the wall, but it is also about what her neighbors believe the wall will hold back. Are you her neighbor? She might live down the street from you. You don’t need to agree with her on everything, you do need to become someone she can approach without fear. How can you help her lift her burden, so she is not as weary? How can you help make her less afraid? How can you…help?
I have little hope that this letter will be read but I still feel compelled to ask for your help. I have great respect for you organization and have donated money, shared on social media, and watched all of your online courses. You bring so much hope and goodness to many people inside and outside the United States.
I write to you today because of your recent Instagram post about building the wall. I totally trust that Mr. Ballard is one of the most educated people on the subject of border safety and human trafficking. I too believe in securing our border from threats and drastically changing the way we deal with matters of immigration.
I believe that Mr. Ballard is rightfully very respected and has a lot of power to change the minds and hearts of many people. It is because of his power to influence, that I ask he clarify his statement about the border wall. He only expressed his views on the bad people that are trying permeate our borders. He is, of course, not wrong. People with ill-intent do cross our borders. I know this because I lived in Brownsville, Texas. I understand the dynamics of border towns. But he did not mention anything, not even a word of solidarity, about the good people trying to come the United States.
By failing to mention the good people on the other side of the border, he is perpetuating the stereotype that “all Mexicans are drug dealers and rapists.” He is feeding the fear that all immigrants - illegal or legal - want to come and ruin the United states. As a Mexican American living in Utah, I hear these comments everyday. Many people in my community and in my church who support of the wall also casually and consistently express racist sentiments about Mexicans.
If Mr. Ballard supports the wall, many people might assume he also carries racist sentiments against immigrants, and in turn feel justified to feel that way also because he is very respected. I truly believe that Mr. Ballard, and the O.U.R. organization, cares deeply about all people of color. Their actions prove this. I know we’ve all been taught that actions speak louder than words, but in the social media world, that is simply not the case. In the social media world, words without nuance produce actions without love.
I ask that Mr. Ballard clarify his beliefs and professional opinions about the well-intentioned people who seek help at the border. Wall or no wall, our immigration system is not set up to help those in need. Coming to the United States legally is only possible through having money and/or connections. It should not be so, there are many good, impoverished people that are coming to the U.S. in seek of help and want to work hard to build this country Mr. Ballard loves so much. I know many good families that have nothing to do with human trafficking or drugs that are desperate to give their children a better life. I ask that you please acknowledge them also. I feel despair when I think of leaving them on the other side of the wall with all the “coyotes” and wolves.
If Mr. Ballard sees a need for fortifying our border, I believe him. I also believe it is his responsibility to speak about a complicated subject with nuance. My own father came to the United States legally with a student visa and then obtained a doctorate degree. He has returned to Mexico to better serve his countrymen there. We stay here. Because we want to serve our countrymen here. And still, my 6-year-old son is being bullied at school because many white Americans think all Mexican people are dirty and evil. These are people who respect Mr. Ballard and believe what he says. Mr. Ballard has great power to change this way of thinking and I respectful ask for his help in doing so on social media.
For the most informative, engrossing, disheartened listen on the US Border? I recommend this trilogy with my whole broken heart.
For further reading on how mothers have always crossed boundaries to save their kids may I suggest this?