On Border Fences and the Fabric of Our Nation
by Leslie Harrison
I have always been a proponent for the rights of immigrants, based on the image I have of America according to the picture painted by our history. I am disappointed and ashamed that some Americans have such a short memory and refuse to look at the pages of history, which bring to life the importance of immigration to our country’s greatness. As a child, my heart was torn as I reflected on the lives of WWII era Japanese Americans who were placed in internment (concentration) camps in Oklahoma and Arizona, and I wonder today why the conversation has not changed. Why are productive persons being removed from our communities, especially when many have no idea that they are not legitimate citizens? Why are families still being torn apart, like those who found themselves on the wrong side of Berlin during the Cold War, and walled off from the ones they love? The US is destroying the legacies and spirits of people who want to be productive citizens of our nation.
Although my perspective has not changed over the years, my voice has grown stronger as I’ve become more informed and can bring more depth to the conversation. Now I seek to be the voice for the mothers of Dreamers who have left children in America, for Deported Veterans, and others whose experience of oppression has increased since the governmental changes in immigration. Most people in my communities and circles have no idea what it entails to be an immigrant. They have no idea about the oppression immigrants endure as they try to “live” in America, nor do they have any idea about the squalor that many people in Tijuana endure because they long to be in America with their American families.
I have been on many borders where families are separated by walls, but this Mexican/US border is devastating to my spirit. I have grieved with the peoples of Palestine and Israel, I have wept at the Berlin wall, but anger rose within me at the Tijuana wall. I am angry because America is being petty concerning visitation of families. I understand the need for national security, and I understand the importance of immigrants to the fabric of our country. I empathize with the immigrant mothers, just as I empathize with the stories of the African American slave mothers whose children were torn from their breasts.
I must continue to ask myself and those around me, “How are you treating the stranger?” I will challenge each of us to learn about our nation’s immigration policies and how they affect real people, to share that information with the uninformed, to stand when social injustice raises its head, and to be have compassion on those who dream of being productive members of our country.
A graduate of Palmer Theological Seminary of Eastern University, Rev. Leslie R. Harrison is an ordained elder of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, a hospice chaplain in South Jersey, and adjunct professor at Eastern’s School of Christian Ministry. She wrote this reflection after participating in Palmer’s “Ministry on the Borderline” course. Harrison is a board member to many organizations that fight against social injustices, as well as a doctoral student in Eastern University’s Marriage and Family Therapy program.