How did we get here? I ask myself this whenever I read about a "caravan" of Central Americans fleeing north.
Thanks to an eye-opening trip earlier this year, I have a greater understanding of why men, women and children risk their lives to come to our country.
I joined a delegation of 15 American rabbis traveling through Guatemala with American Jewish World Service (AJWS), the leading Jewish organization working to end poverty and support human rights in the developing world.
Fittingly, our trip began soon after two Guatemalan children died in U.S. Border Patrol custody. What could have led their parents to leave all they knew, putting their lives and those of their children in danger?
I quickly learned some answers. I witnessed people living in profound poverty and in fear of increasing violence, political intimidation and racism, particularly against Guatemala's indigenous Maya people.
I met lawyers who face assassination attempts simply because they stand up for justice. I met indigenous people uprooted because the government wrested away the land they farmed for generations. I met midwives in the mountains of Quetzaltenango who walk miles at night to help with births in tiny thatch houses because most Guatemalan women have no access to a hospital.
Seeing this with my own eyes, I realized these families are not crossing our border to attain the American dream, but to escape the Guatemala nightmare. The crisis at our southern border does not require a wall. It requires humanity. While President Trump has declared a national emergency on our border, the real emergency is in Guatemala and with her people.
We should be creating a just and efficient process to welcome asylum seekers who cross our borders. We should be investing in Guatemalans who are working and staying in their country to counter government abuse, to help systems that provide health, education and food. Invest in the midwives who are working to educate women and making birth safer. Invest in organizations that working to maintain human rights and a free press.
Every Shabbat, many Jews recite as a congregation the "Prayer for Our Country" — "May our judges, elected leaders and all who hold public office exercise their responsibilities with wisdom, fairness and justice for all." We add, "Fill them with love and kindness."
Join me in asking our elected officials in Washington, D.C., to support the Guatemala Act, recently introduced in the U.S. House, which would sanction the country's corrupt officials.
Consider joining me, too, in giving to organizations like AJWS that support the work of human rights defenders in Guatemala and all over the globe. And consider traveling to Guatemala to see the truth with your own eyes.
Eve Posen serves as the assistant rabbi at Congregation Neveh Shalom in Portland.
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