When I read the prophecy in Isaiah, I think of Miriam. Miriam’s life in many ways has been completely the opposite of the promises here. For years she has had to keep her family safe from worsening violence in southern Mexico, and when she finally fled to try to seek safety in the US, she found the border closed and was stranded in Nogales, Mexico. Here she has also experienced persecution by organized crime, including when she was selling tamales on the street to support her family, and members of the cartel approached her and told her she didn’t have permission to sell here.
Miriam shared with me several months ago that she had heard from people who were able to access the US asylum process and that when the officer released them into the US he would say to them: “estás libre.” She dreamed of being in the US and finally feeling free. She expressed this desire to rest her mental energy, after being on high alert for years, concerned for her own safety and that of her children.
But even when she gets to the US, it is unlikely that Miriam will live a life that fulfills the words of this scripture, one in which:
together their young shall rest;
the lion shall eat hay like the ox.
The baby shall play by the cobra's den,
and the child lay his hand on the adder's lair.
I remember reading similar scripture during spiritual exercises years ago. My initial reaction was one of rejection: “inconceivable, so far from my reality” and yet quickly coming in prayer to say: this is the hope that God has graced me to do the work of peacemaking and justice. I trust in God’s truth and his peace. For “by the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope”
Who am I to deny Miriam’s hope? Miriam’s belief in a world where she can be truly free?
And if we have the grace of that hope, we are better equipped to do the hard work of the journey to get there. Which means winnowing and clearing and cutting down and burning what doesn’t bear fruit.
Most devastating and most transformative moments in my work here have been the times that I have made mistakes.
Earlier this year, I believed in information that the US government had given me, even though after 8 years at the border I really should know better. And I shared that information with migrants. I participated in creating false hope and eager expectations, which were then of course not fulfilled. In the recriminations and sorrow that followed, I had to take a hard look at my role in the situation, recognize my wrong, ask for forgiveness and ask for God’s help to truly repent. If I believe in the vision that Isaiah shares with us, I can’t hide behind just not being as bad as the US immigration system. The grace of hope allows us to be humble enough that we are willing to undergo refining fire, because it is part of the path that leads to a greater future.
So let’s live and work towards a world in which the words “you are free” might convey the deep freedom, peace and justice that God promises in Isaiah.
Since 2021, Joanna Williams has been the Executive Director at the Kino Border Initiative (KBI), a binational Catholic ministry in Nogales, Arizona and Sonora that works towards a vision of migration with dignity through humanitarian services, holistic accompaniment, education, and advocacy. She started at KBI as a volunteer in 2011 and prior to her current position worked for 6 years as the Director of Education and Advocacy at the organization.
Joanna graduated with a Bachelor's in Science from the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University, where she researched the role of the Latino Church in creating social change. She was also confirmed into the Catholic Church her senior year at Georgetown. In 2019 she received a Master's in Public Policy from Arizona State University. Over the course of more than a decade, she has journeyed with migrants in a variety of contexts. She volunteered at a shelter in Tierra Blanca, Veracruz that served primarily Central American migrants travelling north on trains. In 2013 and 2014 she conducted Fulbright research in central Mexico on the reintegration of deported and return migrants. In 2014 and 2015 she worked as a coordinator for the American Civil Liberties Union’s Border Litigation Project.
Photo Credit: Paul Jones, Georgetown University
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