Agua Prieta: Seeking peace that is more than safety

by Bill Branch and Beth Newell, accompaniers in Agua Prieta

A circle of four hands pour water into each others cups, demonstrating the shares peace and action of accompanimentThe town of Agua Prieta seems peaceful. Driving around in our ’96 Saturn, trying not to miss the faded and often hidden stop signs, or go the wrong way down unlabeled one-way streets, Bill points out a difference from other places we each have traveled in Latin America: there are no security guards outside businesses and very few walls topped with broken glass or razor wire as a security measure. Based on these observations, you might assume that there’s no crime in Agua Prieta. You’d be wrong.

To ensure their money-making ventures run smoothly here and across the border, the local cartel makes sure there is no crime that might draw the attention of authorities or social media. Violators of the cartel’s rules face consequences that ensure everyone submits to their authority. Thus while there is very little “unorganized” or petty crime here, there is the constant threat of running afoul of the local cartel.

Migrants approaching the US border are targets of the cartel. Far from home, migrants can be abducted or become victims of extortion. In the case of many Mexican migrants, cartel violence is why they left behind all that was familiar to seek asylum in the United States.

The first order of peacemaking in this situation is to keep people safe, and the folks at CAME (Centro de Atención al Migrante “Exodus”) and the Migrant Resource Center (CRM) are doing just that, as are we when we escort refugees. But as we know, the peace that God wants for each one of us is much more than just safety. The Hebrew word “shalom” and the Arabic “salaam” capture the fuller essence of this peace: wholeness, fulfillment, and harmony.

We try to imagine what it must be like for asylum seekers to step through that border entry post after waiting so long here in Agua Prieta. We’ve heard stories about what can happen in detention centers along the border, and they have too. Knowing what we know about current US immigration policies, Bill and I worry that decisions made by US authorities about the future of these brave people won’t bring them much closer to the shalom they seek. Three mothers we’ve talked with recently, from Michoacán, Guerrero, and Russia, each nervously told us the night before they entered the US that they were both scared and excited. Neither Bill nor I have ever been in a situation in which agents of our government have had such power over our lives. Our prayers go with these mothers and all the other asylum seekers who enter our country.

The fullness of shalom is in the hands of God, but we as God’s people are called to do all we can to help people live into this peace.