Interfaith Conflict Resolution at the US-Mexico Border
by Summer MacAdam Gorham
February 18, 2020

The persistence of violent conflict at the U.S.-Mexico border has captured the spotlight in the media repeatedly, but recent eruptions have brought this conflict to the forefront of national awareness. Regardless of political leaning, the existence and need to resolve violent conflict is imperative.

Interfaith movements may offer unique and invaluable insights into reducing the spread of conflict. A diverse array of religious leaders have come together at the U.S.-Mexico border to advance social movements that advocate for migrant rights and aim at mending broken relationships of conflict at the border. Recently, at a demonstration in the border near the city of Tijuana, religious leaders from the Abrahamic faiths and those from Indigenous communities came together to show their support for the humane treatment of asylum seekers.

In order to understand solutions to the persistence of violence, we should first address the wider conversation around migration and border control in the United States.  Ongoing debates about migration and foreign entry date back to the Founding Fathers. Alexander Hamilton, who himself was an immigrant, wrote about concerns he had of migration into the United States:  “The influx of foreigners must, therefore, produce a heterogeneous compound; to change and corrupt the national spirit; to complicate and confound public opinion; to introduce foreign propensities.” Still today, migrants face tremendous social pressure to assimilate to American culture to ease the tension of being an outsider in the community. Migrants who reject the assimilation process often become marginalized and are not accepted into the community. Even those who assimilate are often discriminated on the lines of race or class. It is not uncommon for this social hostility to evolve into violent conflict.

In New Mexico, citizens of Albuquerque have taken matters of patrolling the border into their own hands. Unsanctioned vigilante groups have been holding migrants at gunpoint until official border patrol officers arrive to arrest and formally detain them. These holdings have been repeatedly filmed and put on social media as a warning to other migrants. Vigilante groups have also stated that they will not stop patrolling the border until stricter immigration laws are in place.

In 2018 a video surfaced of what was being done to water that was left at the border for migrants. It shows border patrol agents kicking over water tanks and taking gallons of water and dumping them out onto the ground. The water that was left was as an act of humanitarian aid by the non-profit, No More Deaths,  and abided by U.S. Law. Destroying the water that was left to decrease the chances of a migrant death is an act of violence towards migrants as that water may be what saves a life.

Samaritan’s Purse,  an evangelical Christian organization, has been sending food, water, and even mattresses to those on the U.S. side of the border. The organization recognizes there is a crisis at the border and migrants are in an incredibly vulnerable state and providing basic aid is the difference between life and death. “Some of these people have been traveling for months and they have been through so much. . .  Samaritan’s Purse has teams on the border right now, and we are working with churches, evangelical Christian partners, and local officials to help alleviate the suffering of as many as we can.” said Samaritan’s Purse President Franklin Graham.

Interfaith Welcome Coalition,  a fairly new non-profit, established in 2014, works to aid the needs of migrants as issues present themselves. Similar to Samaritan’s Purse the group works to provide basic necessities to migrants who are making the dangerous trip across the U.S.- Mexico border.  They work to educate the public to change the way migrants are viewed and to help people better understand the immigration system.  IWC conducts prayer circles to help bring communities together and raise awareness.  IWC is also very active on social media sharing stories from the border and the experiences asylum seekers face. The use of social media helps keep people engaged and educated on the issues of immigration and what is happening at the U.S. border.

Tuscan Samaritans, a group organized by the Southside Presbyterian Church, travels through the Arizona desert daily in search of migrants who may be in danger. Barbara Sostaita, a scholar of religious studies at the University of North Carolina, traveled with Tuscans Samaritans through the desert to aid those who are attempting to cross the border. On this endeavor, she saw firsthand the horrific journey border crossers face and the survival challenges faced by migrants. Sostaita speaks of a man, Alvaro, who works with the Samaritans building crosses and placing them at sites where migrants died on their journey north. This small act of faith works to rehumanize migrants and raise awareness about the challenges that migrants face.

When religious groups have shared values, this creates an alliance that transcends religious boundaries, and this can be seen at the U.S.- Mexico border. Religious leaders have created faith-based non-profits across the border with the same mission: to help ensure the safety of those who are making the dangerous journey across the border and to reduce incidents of violent conflict.

The views, thoughts, and opinions in this blog belong solely to the author and are not representative of an official position or endorsement by the International Center for Religion & Diplomacy (ICRD).