Dear Friends and Family,
Thank you for taking a moment to read a short blog about why I am choosing to walk El Camino with the Christian Community Development Association (CCDA) from August 26th to August 31st (Most people are walking from Aug 20th-August 31st, but I could not get that much time off from work). When I found out that the CCDA was planning to do this walk, I was immediately filled with a deep gratitude to have an opportunity like this. I am truly honored to join in this walk and invite you to learn more about it at: http://www.ccda.org/events/el-camino
My great-great-great-great-great grandfather was an immigrant. In the 1700’s, he fled to the United States from Scotland because he was being persecuted by the English who had taken over the country. He moved to South Carolina and later established himself in Texas. Throughout the centuries, my family has come to know the United States as home and has benefited immensely from the freedom, opportunity, connection and community here.
One opportunity I have had that brought me to learn more about immigration was when I studied abroad in Querétaro, México. I lived with a family and was immersed in the beautiful, healing, and communal nation of México. I had never encountered such hospitality, and such vigor for family, work, and faith. The connections I made there helped me to better understand the complexity of the relationship between the U.S. and México.
In 2015, I was given the opportunity to serve as a volunteer support and translator for lawyers as they prepared women and children who were seeking asylum in the United States. We drove through many small towns and eventually stumbled upon an unassuming compound along a country road in Dilley, Texas. After an intensive and time-consuming security check, we were given permission to enter and were escorted to a trailer where we could work. As the hours went by, woman after woman came in with children, ages three and up. They looked tired, unkempt, and emotionally drained.
We listened to their stories—the stories of women fleeing their violent households where they were routinely beaten and raped and received no help when they went to the police; or the story of the woman who fled on foot with her five children because they were being threatened by gangs, and finally left when their teenage neighbor was brutally murdered. These women fled to the United States to ask for Asylum, which you can only do when you are on U.S. soil. Many of them looked for border patrol when crossing and asked pleadingly for help. Then they were taken to a jail-like detention facility, treated like inmates, given food that they were not accustomed to, at times denied health care, and not given legal representation (can you imagine being locked up in a foreign country and trying to read legal documents that could save your life in a foreign language?) The women who had assistance from our volunteer legal team were at a slight advantage because with representation they were more likely to receive an opportunity to pursue asylum and eventually get out – but only if they could pay the $15,000 bond. On top of all of this, I was amazed to learn about how profitable and powerful the corporate prison system, and how much sway their lobbying holds in our government.
As a clinical social worker who works daily with people impacted by the immigration system, I have had to confront the complexity of this issue. Reform will require creativity, healthy dialogue, multiple perspectives, listening, and wisdom. The time is now for that to happen — before it gets any worse. After seeing the crushing weight of the system on clients I work with and the women and children at Dilley, I recognize the blatant injustice in the system that is further marginalizing and traumatizing families.
People ask me why I am interested in working for immigration reform. The quote by an indigenous leader, Lilla Watson, summarizes my hope in working towards this important cause:“If you have come to help me, you are wasting your time; but if you are here because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”
I truly believe that Jesus came to save us all, not just from what we see as individual sin, but from the powers of injustice, from violence, dehumanization, and corruption that has us all bound and silenced. We the people are meant to do this type of justice work together– work that unites us in our common values of respect, dignity, humility, peace, truth, freedom, and happiness.
I benefit from my U.S. citizenship everyday and recognize the incredible privilege that comes with being born here. My hope is that this walk will help our national discussion to shift to include the stories of those gravely impacted by our system. Additionally, let us lift up the ideas and input from people experiencing the system in order to create effective and dignity-based policies to ensure that families are not separated, people are not detained for seeking help, and our view of immigrants is one of respect.
Please join me in sharing your stories of immigration and opening up the dialogue to impact positive change. It is through relationships with each other that we change and grow. The beauty of human connection and our ability to listen, respect and learn from one another is what makes things change and ultimately what changes us.
Alexandria Newton is a Clinical Social Work in Denver, Colorado who hopes to work toward reconciliation and social justice as a daily stance and is still figuring out how to meld justice with faith toward liberation for all. She is thrilled to learn more from the CCDA and walk along others on El Camino in the hope of seeing dignified immigration reform in this decade.