Humane Borders touch our history and our souls
Written by Randy Mayer
June 2001


The Bible I read is filled with heroic stories of migrants who moved across borders seeking security, freedom and economic possibilities.

The list of migrants is quite astounding. People like Abraham, Joseph and Moses crossed onto foreign land to reside as aliens.

Even Mary and Joseph crossed borders to avoid the potential death of their child. Jesus learned at a young age that crossing borders was critical, not only for survival but also essential in creating God's community of diversity.

The founders of the United States understood the biblical story of migrants and welcomed them. As folks moved west, that hospitality permeated the open space, especially along the Mexican border. Many recall the open fence, but in 1993 that openness was exchanged for a scrap metal fence.

The real purpose of the fence is hard to determine. Many say it is because of the economic conditions created by North American Free Trade Agreement or perhaps the increased tensions of the drug war.

Regardless of the reasons, the fence has forced the desperate migrant who often is recruited by U.S. farms and companies to take the "Devil's Highway" through the dangerous mountains and most desolate parts of the Sonora Desert.

In 2000, more than 375 migrants died as they attempted the long walk. More than one-third of those deaths resulted from heat exposure, double the 1999 total.

The Border Patrol's policy of forcing the migrants to take the riskiest of routes so they can "either track them or they will die" has been successful. But is it just, is it humane, and is it a policy that builds upon God's story of inclusion and diversity?

In Arizona, various churches and non-profit agencies, including the UCC's Southwest Conference, have formed a group called Humane Borders. Its primary mission is to create a just and humane border environment.

Currently the group is deploying hundreds of water stations into the hot desert. Blue flags fly 30 feet above them, so migrants can see them from a distance. The hope is to remove death from the immigration equation. Perhaps the greatest accomplishment has been the forging of unlikely wills.

Humane Borders has worked with the Border Patrol and various land management agencies to find a simple solution that everyone can agree on: offering a cup of water, something Jesus proposed a long time ago. Not only is it really Living Water, it is water of hospitality that bridges borders and leads to a community of God that is diverse and understanding of one another.

When you get down to it, reaching out to the migrant touches our history and our souls; it is like reaching out to our ancestors and our future prophets.

The Rev. Randy Mayer is pastor of the Good Shepherd UCC in Sahuarita, Ariz., and an active member of Humane Borders. To read a Los Angeles Times story on church border-relief efforts, visit www.latimes.com/news/state/updates/lat_border001219.htm. From our annual offering for One Great Hour of Sharing (OGHS), the UCC has given $5,000 to Humane Borders for 20 additional water stations for immigrants coming across the border.

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