The WDC Immigration Task Force offers a series of  memos for reflections during September and October, mindful of immigrants among us without a voice this election season, seeking to make visible what is invisible with regard to immigrant lives and immigration issues.  Each brief reflection will be introduced in WDC’s weekly Sprouts and offered in full length on the immigration issues website:

  1. “Rethinking the Migration Narrative” Raylene Hinz-Penner
  2. “Biblical Stories of Migration,” referencing Danny Carroll’s recent presentations to the WDC Assembly; Kathy Neufeld Dunn
  3. “Positions on Immigration Issues of the 2020 U.S. Presidential Candidates;” Pat Cameron
  4. “Voices of Our Immigrant Brothers and Sisters.”                                                                

Rethinking the Migration Narrative:  Science journalist Sonia Shah’s 2020 book titled The Next Great Migration dives into deep time to remind us that migration is not a crime.  Migration is the way of existence, completely natural and intuitive, indeed, healthy and necessary among all plants, animals and humans. Migration is encoded in human bodies, just as it is in any wild species, according to Shah’s research.  When did we begin to demonize the human act of moving? When did we begin believing the impossible to explain by any single cause movement of peoples exceptional or problematic?

Shah demonstrates that the more relevant question for humankind today is what are we going to do about the global movement of peoples?  We need a creative alternative to the building of walls to blockade the movements of over 4 billion people around the world.  Walls never work.  The very forces of nature tear them down. Creative and desperate people, animals, and insects fly over them, scale them, dig beneath them, or slip between the rungs. 

Anyone who looks through the massive and expensive construction of a 30-foot “fence” between Douglas, Arizona and Agua Prieto, Mexico can see that the arroyos gather debris to float during the next gully washing rain and tear down the barrier if it were not for the constant care and maintenance necessary to clean out beneath the metal fence and quickly open the gates for the water and debris to sweep through.  “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,” says the natural world (and Robert Frost).  And, in the U.S. and around the world, fences only deflect and redirect the movement of people, plants and animals; such humanmade constructions do not stop that movement! 

Environmentalists work hard to offer safe passage to endangered species by building green corridors as assistance for migrating animals.  Shah imagines that nations and communities might have the compassion to offer the same for people:  “It is possible to envision a world in which people, too, safely move across the landscape. . . . so that migration can become more regular and orderly . . . safe, dignified, humane.”

Shah’s argument is that humanity must refuse to criminalize a natural act and instead, think creatively about how to assist the movement of peoples the earth over, as environmentalists assist endangered species.  “If we were to accept migration as integral to life on a dynamic planet with shifting and unevenly distributed resources, there are any number of ways we could proceed. . . . We can continue to think of this as a catastrophe.  Or we can reclaim our history of migration and our place in nature as migrants like the butterflies and the birds.  We can turn migration from a crisis into its opposite:  the solution.”