“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
Seeing these words painted in protest on the newly built, hugely fortified border fence in Playas de Tijuana, was eye opening. What happened to us? How did we get to this place? And where is the America of Ellis Island?
Here’s what we know. The American society we all enjoy is built on the backs of cheap labor. While we complain about expensive gas we enjoy cheap foods picked by nameless, faceless, undocumented people throughout our country. And that’s just the people who likely went in debt $5,000 to cross our monster border. We so easily forget about the hundreds of thousands of hands that manufacture goods in Tijuana.
Two weeks ago, I went into Costco and spent $230 on a new flat screen TV. I confess I never thought about the hands who assembled it in TJ or somewhere like it. Their fingerprints were invisible on the box. Their breathe filled space in the box between the styrofoam and the cardboard. But it was their product I purchased. We are enjoying their faceless handiwork.
I didn’t think that the person who assembled my TV makes less than $60 per week working 60 hours lives just 45 minutes from my home. That person might live in a community like I visited yesterday. It’s a place that doesn’t technically exist though several thousand people live on the flood plain of a river below the plant where toxic waste is routinely dumped. There’s no running water. No toilets. No showers. No electricity. And since they don’t have legal rights to the land the government can decide to move them out whenever they feel like. A team from Centro Romero was there a few years back when bulldozers did just that. They gave families 5 minutes to leave before bulldozing half of the community for a canal project.
When I bought my TV I didn’t think about the children who will grow up playing in the toxic mess while both parents are off at the assembly plant. I didn’t think about the miles those kids would have to walk to get to school. I didn’t think about the realities of their birth defects caused by heavy metals. I didn’t think about the loan sharks and child traffickers who make their living keeping these young families stuck in these conditions.
All I know is that I smiled when I bought my $230 TV at Costco that Sunday. It was cheap. I got a good deal. And our TV was broken.
It’s easy to hear about our nations billion dollar fence and feel good about it. But know that we’ve not stopped the flow of illegal immigration. As one of the signs said, “If you make a 12 foot fence we’ll build a 13 foot ladder.” All our fence has done is made the journey more treacherous. Along one stretch of road we visited a memorial to the 4500 documented deaths of people attempting to cross the border. It’s also gotten more expensive. Until recently, it only cost a few hundred dollars to hire someone to get you across the border. Now the price is around $5,000. How do people making $56 a week afford that? They become indentured servants on American farms.
It’s easy to say things like, “I’m all for people immigrating to our country, they just have to do it legally.” Those are easy things to say from this side of the fence. These are easy things to say when you were born here. These are easy things to say when they are nameless and faceless to you. But also think about your $230 TV or your $1.99 fresh strawberries or your $10 t-shirt. It’s easy for you to say those things when you are enjoying the fruits of their oppression.
My challenge to you is to do what I’ve done. Take the time to learn their stories and walk in their shoes. I’ll take you to these places if you dare.
And then you’ll ask yourself– which side of the fence are you on?