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Lessons from life on the border By Jeff Favre Build a wall. Welcome all. Deport 11 million


immigrants living illegally in America. Create a path to citizenship for those who are undocumented. In the United States, presidential campaigns


increase the chatter—and this year may have reached new highs in contentious, sometimes violent, debates—about immigration. Some of this rhetoric revolves around Mexico.


The number of Mexican citizens coming to America has dropped annually for about the last decade, according to the Pew Research Center, but about half of all undocumented immigrants, and more than a quarter of documented immigrants, are from Mexico. Immigration and migration are abstract issues


for many U.S. Americans who are unaware of the impact policy decisions have on families in Mexico—something Hannah Smith, Alyssa Kaplan and Josh Stallings have learned in their time with the ELCA Young Adults in Global Mission (YAGM) program. They, along with more than 70 other 20-somethings, are finishing their year of service with the program, which pairs young adults with ELCA companion churches and organizations in 11 countries. Each country has needs, but only Mexico deals as


closely—geographically and politically—with the U.S. Living in these communities has taught these three young adults lessons about what’s happening on the border and how things might change in the future.


Actively listen For her year with YAGM, Smith is living in Cuetzalan but serving the nearby community in Ayotzinapan, where she teaches English and works on projects for a library. As rewarding as the experience has been, she said border relations frustrate her. “We need to find a better way to deal with


‘ They sang about love and it made me feel worse.’


issues surrounding immigration,” she said. “I would challenge people to look beyond their political beliefs and ask themselves why so many people are forced to migrate from their homes. Once you reach the root of this issue, it becomes clear that the blame cannot be placed on our neighbors—that they are not the criminals here.” Smith said it’s important to understand that immi-


gration is a humanitarian issue, not a political one. “We are so quick to jump down people’s throats and rarely take the time to actively listen, also


40 JUNE 2016


known as listening without necessarily having the intent to immediately respond or refute or initiate debate,” she said. “During this year of service, I have practiced more listening and have not been so quick to present my opinions as before because in order to truly cultivate community and to serve others, you must be first willing to hear them.”


Understand American privilege Kaplan’s time is spent in Tlaxco, where she teaches English, tutors in reading and math, works in the school’s garden and assists in the first- and second- grade classrooms.Getting to know her host family and the schoolchildren have given her insight into life on the border. “I live and work among people who have crossed


the border countless times,” she said. “While in the U.S. they may be called illegal aliens, to me they are friends and family. Nearly half of the students at the Instituto de Educacion Integral de Magdalena Cervantes (her school) live with a single parent or grandparents, many because one or both of their parents have crossed the border in search of livable wages.


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