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Questioning Causes of Violence in Mexico

February 17, 2011

By Sister Aine

Being here at the border in Texas has certainly opened me up to the reality of the violence in Mexico.

I am spending two months ministering at ARISE: A Resource In Serving Equality, which was founded in 1987 by Sr. Gerrie Naughton, RSM, and is co-sponsored by the Sisters of Mercy: South Central Community and Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word of Houston, Texas.

ARISE is a grassroots and neighborhood based organization whose mission it is to empower low-income immigrant families in the Rio Grande Valley to realize their dreams and their full potential for equality of opportunity in society. I spend a lot of my day going door- to- door with the community organizers to register children for classes and to talk to the women about the needs of the community. I also participate in their classes, such as English, pre-school socialization and arts and crafts. Many classes take place out in the community, in the homes of the people.

There is a tremendous effort going on in ARISE at the moment to educate and organize people to respond to the new anti-immigration bills (similar to those in Arizona) that are being proposed by the Texas Legislature. ARISE staff and the members of the colonias will travel this month to Austin, the state capital, to join other communities to state their concerns and opposition to state officials. They will present 20,000 postcards opposing the proposed inhumane and negative laws.

On the border, we are located close to the town of Reynosa. Every day members of the ARISE staff and women from the colonias relate stories of violence in Reynosa, Rio Bravo and Valle Hermoso, located in the State of Tamaulipas, and in Monterray, which is in the State of Nuevo Leon. In the last couple of weeks alone, a cousin (a police officer) of one of the women who works at ARISE was murdered; a brother of one of the women in the local community was abducted and she is simply devastated; the parents-in-law of another member of the community have disappeared and are believed to have been kidnapped by a cartel; and, a missionary was killed in her car while fleeing with her husband from a cartel checkpoint.

I am told that families in Reynosa are not going out once it gets dark. They don’t want to answer the door because cartel members are forcing men to carry drugs across the border, under a threat of killing their whole family if they do not comply. Some have taken to sleeping on the floor at night because their beds are too close to the windows, making them easy targets for being shot.

I can’t imagine what it must be like for the families to have to live with and cope with such violence. Something very, very destructive is tearing the fabric of their society apart. It is hard to know how to respond to this level of terror, especially from this side of the border. I know that we can pray, and that we can be there to listen to family members on this US side as they share their fears for family members and as they struggle to know what to do.

I really appreciated Sister Betty Campbell’s heart-wrenching description of the violence she is witnessing, the ray of hope in the weekend of solidarity with Juarez and the opportunity to sign a petition to President Obama about the need to curtail the U.S. role in the\violence.

The call to “re-orient” the failed drug-war strategy and to suspend military aid and security pending an urgent public review of current and alternative strategies is critical. I also feel compelled to learn how we can put pressure on and advocate for changes in the North American Trade Agreement ( NAFTA).

I believe that we will see more and more people crossing over the Mexican border and formally seeking asylum from the violence and persecution. Pressure will need to be put on the U.S. to respond appropriately to an influx of such asylum seekers. How can we use our corporate voice to advocate for legal protection for those fleeing Mexico, away from violence and persecution?

Finally, with pressing concern, as I spend time here on the border and listen to the stories of immigrants, I find myself wondering what would happen if, using our corporate voice, the Sisters of Mercy began to use the terms “economic immigrant” or “persecuted/conflict immigrant” every time we spoke publicly and advocated on behalf of immigrants. Using these terms would bring attention to the two main reasons for coming north: economic deprivation, which has resulted from the catastrophic impact of NAFTA; and, persecution from violence or fear of persecution and violence from the raging drug wars of Mexico. When people ask us why we are using these specific terms, we can take this opportunity to re-educate the vast majority of the American public on the root causes of immigration.

As Sr. Aine explains, many people are caught up in the violence in Mexico. Among the devastated families are relatives of Malena Reyes, Elias Reyes and Luisa Omelas, who were abducted earlier this month, following the killings of two other family members. Amnesty International is urging people to contact Mexican authorities to call for establishing the whereabouts of the three abducted people, providing protection for their family members and investigating the killing of Josefina and Ruben Reyes.

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