Migration is not the problem

Migration has been a constant through human history. In recent years, there is a growing perception among policy makers and states that migration, especially of low skill migrants, is a problem, especially as  migration from Central America and Mexico to the United States continues in spite of efforts to “seal the border” both in the United States and Mexico.

Additionally, the Obama Administration’s deportations have reached record numbers. The Mexican and Central American governments, despite some efforts, have been unable to absorb a large number of deportees and to help them reintegrate in society.

But sealing borders and increasing deportation ignores the actual problems at the root of the migration crisis, such as poverty, lack of economic opportunity, and violence.

In the Northern region of the Americas there are important migration issues that deserve attention and analysis: (1) Migrants from the “Northern Triangle” (Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador) who continue venturing through the Migration Corridor in Mexico are exposed to multiple dangers ranging from violence from criminal gangs to abuses from immigration authorities. (2) Along the corridor there has been a growing number of humanitarian responses, many of them faith based, which advocate for and assist migrants along their journey.  (3) The deployment of military forces and migration officers along the U.S. border with Mexico and the increasing violence and activity of criminal gangs on Mexican territory make irregular crossings to the U.S. a daunting task.  (4) Migrants who have made it to the U.S. usually face challenges as they try both to acculturate and live under the radar as undocumented migrants.  None of these scenarios is exhaustive.

These serious issues are a call to accompany, serve, and advocate on behalf of these populations that are at the margins of our society.

Migration is a worldwide priority of the Society of Jesus and a focus area for advocacy at the Jesuit Conference in the United States. The Jesuit Conference has been sponsoring a five-week Migration Immersion Experience for Jesuits in formation.  The journey begins in Los Angeles with a three-day seminar to understand certain dynamics of migration and the type of experience we will have.  We then visit El Progreso, Honduras, to understand the context of origin.  We continue moving through the migrant corridor in Mexico visiting shelters that provide services to and advocate for migrants in transit.  We conclude by visiting the California Valley to understand destination contexts.

During this experience, we visit shelters, human rights organizations, parishes, and particular Jesuit projects that assist migrants. The goal is to offer Jesuits in formation a firsthand experience of the reality of migration, as well as to inform them of the political and pastoral challenges involved in it.

In 2015, I led the migration immersion experience for six Jesuit scholastics (four Americans and two Mexicans), with the sponsorship of the Social and International Ministries of the Jesuit Conference in the United States and the Mexican Province of the Jesuits.

We saw firsthand the phenomenon of migration through visits to the “Northern Triangle (Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras), the Mexican Migration Corridor, and some immigrant communities in the U.S. in order to understand migration from various viewpoints. It was also an opportunity to reflect on opportunities for ministry among migrants.

The experience was transformative for all of us. It allowed for a deep encounter with Christ at the margins; an experience where dynamics of our founder Ignatius Loyola’s Spiritual Exercises became alive for all of us; and an experience of solidarity for the international Society of Jesus as we discover ourselves as “Jesuits being called together and being on mission.”

Alejandro Olayo-Mendez, SJ is pursuing a DPhil in International Development at the Oxford Department of International Development (ODID). His research proposal is titled ‘Migration and Humanitarian Aid along The Mexican Migration Corridor.’


Go Deeper!

At WeAreSaltAndLight.org, read more stories about faith communities encountering migrants:

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