Seeing migration from the bottom up…

By Sarah Monroe

In the United States, the controversy over immigration is heating up. In my own community in rural Washington state, there is fear that immigrants are taking jobs from an already severely depressed economy and a suspicion of foreigners who are changing the demographic of a predominately white community. I came on this delegation after several years of research, interviews and activism surrounding immigration and immigrant rights in western Washington.

I had heard the stories of immigrants from the perspective of those who had already crossed and were trying to reconstruct their lives on the other side of the border. I had seen the level of fear in immigrant communities, fear of being seperated from their loved ones and being deported back to Mexico or Central America. But this was the first time I was able to talk to people who were getting ready to cross.

As part of this delegation, we visited a migrant center here in Oaxaca, La Casa del Buen Samaritano. There, we had conversations with Central American migrants who had come from El Salvador and Guatemala. A shy 27-year-old was going to join his brothers in the states because there was nothing left for him in El Salvador. ¨There is no education, no jobs. I have no choice,¨he said. His eyes filled with tears when he talked about his parents, left behind in El Salvador. When we asked how he planned on crossing the border, he shrugged and said, ¨I will cross with God´s help.¨

A man from Guatemala had a family in the states, a wife and a child, and had just spent 6 months in a U.S. detention before being deported back to Guatemala and dropped off without any resources. He was determined to reunite with his family and spoke about the dangers he had faced jumping a freight train to cross the Guatemala-Mexico border and the danger from bandits who prey on migrants. He talked about his fear of the rest of the trip, facing both the Mexican police and gangs, who both are known to extort and assault migrants traveling north.

A crucial question for all of us on this trip was what was fueling this migration north. Oaxaca itself sends many migrants to the United States. In San Juan Sosola, a tiny town in the indigenous Mizteca Alta, we met the people left behind. The streets and schools were nearly empty of children and we were greeted by older members of the community. Members of the shrinking community were working hard to develop sustainable agricultural techniques to offset the depleted soil from modern agricultural techniques, the severe erosion from centuries of deforestation, the incursion of mines and recent climate changes that have affected harvest. We learned that the sale of corn, the primary crop in the region, was being undercut by large scale agribusiness in the United States and that neoliberal policies that laid that groundwork for free trade agreements like NAFTA had cut off farm subsidies to small farms. Don Gregorio informed us that this area had been settled before the time of Christ, though only 50 members of the community now remain. The poverty, lack of opportunity for young people, and hunger had taken its toll.

As I return to rural western Washington, I wonder if the farmers and small town folk I know will be able to relate to this community, as we too face increasing poverty and lack of opportunity for our young people. Small farms in my community also cannot compete with large scale agribusiness. Is it possible that the global trade agreements and large corporations that have reduced opportunity and sustainability in southern Mexico are also affecting my own local community? Could the communities that send migrants and the communities that are receiving them have a common enemy to fight?

I think so.

Sarah Monroe recently traveled to Mexico with a Witness for Peace delegation.

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