In two to three weeks, the migrant caravan heading towards the U.S. border will stop in a town a half hour away from where I'm living. Right now supplies are being collected by local relief organizations to provide aid and assistance, things like socks, diapers, shoes, toothbrushes, clothing, food, and blankets. Living in close proximity to the caravan heading north sheds new light on the desperation that so many people groups around the world experience daily.
In debates over immigration, I often hear the refrain “Why can’t people do things in an orderly and legal way. There are procedures in place. This blunt disregard of the system is wrong.” This criticism is directed at both individuals trying to cross the border and larger groups, whose presence is deemed especially threatening.
However, this critique can only be spoken from a place of privilege. When your life is safe, secure, and without threat, you have all the time in the world to assume, well, if others played by the rules like I do, this chaos would be solved. However, this privileged, and might I add simple, viewpoint fails to understand the dynamic faced by people truly in crisis. When your life is threatened, or you face poverty or violence so extreme that walking thousands of miles is actually an attractive option, you are thinking on an entirely different plane. Your sole focus is survival, with a glimmer of hope that surely there is a life somewhere where you will not be living in fear, danger, poverty, or hunger. When you are fleeing for your life, the “rules” of the system you are heading towards are not guiding your behavior. Desperation is, and a longing to live.
Just as the migrants heading towards the United States have a felt need for shelter, food, and jobs, surely we have an equal need to have our American and privileged world views transformed. The danger of privilege is that it colors our interpretation of “right and wrong,” and at the same time distorts our view of justice and love. This is especially troublesome, given that those with privilege both create the "rules" and also possess the most resources to balance the gross inequality in the world.
If nothing else, Americans should be able to understand a people group driven by their belief that things can be better. Immigration to this country has been driven by the dream of a better life for its entire history. Surely the migrants' chasing of this same dream is something that can garner a show of compassion, not the building of a militarized wall, understanding, not judgement, and a renewed effort to solve the complexities inherent in the immigration system. For we must remember that it is not “us and them.” We are fellow citizens on this planet who are inextricably tied together in our common humanity. We must learn to forge a future together that includes a vision for all of us.