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Holding Privilege on the Border

Blog Headers 2023-24 (24)

Editor’s Note: Lay missioner Kim Wagner recognizes a privilege that she has as a US citizen and realizes how she can use her privilege on mission at the US-Mexico border.

As I leave the Centro de Recursos para Migrantes (Migrant Resource Center) in Agua Prieta, Sonora, Mexico after my volunteer shift, I walk along the bustling streets and fish my driver’s license out of my wallet to give to the Customs agents. With my ID in hand, I walk across Calle Internacional (International Street) between the cars awaiting entry into the United States, and I turn my head and look at the line of families who are currently living in tents on the side of the street as they await their appointments with Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) to have their applications for asylum heard. I recognize a few of the families in line from the Center and feel my stomach tie itself in a knot as a few smile and wave to me. I, once again, can feel tension rising in me as I hold my ID and walk through the Port of Entry and into the U.S.

I believe this tension that I feel in moments such as this comes from the utilization of my inherent privileges in front of those who do not carry those same privileges. As a citizen of the U.S., I can cross back and forth between Mexico and the U.S. with relative ease — unlike the families who are waiting in line who make the treacherous journey here and oftentimes have been waiting for months in a tent on the street for their appointment with CBP. There have been times when I have wondered if I am unintentionally hurting those whom I am serving by rubbing this privilege I have in their faces as they watch me cross back after my shifts. Holding this privilege and my tension around it while being present to those I serve has been an unexpected challenge for me during my time on mission.

I recently was talking to my community mate and fellow missioner, Julia, about this issue and the tension I feel, and she remembered a conversation that she had with our supervisor, Bridich, at the Center about the privilege we hold as Americans. Bridich reminded Julia that while we do hold this privilege, it all comes down to how we utilize it. In volunteering to meet the immediate needs of the people seeking asylum, we are choosing to use our privilege to uplift those who cannot yet enter the U.S. This conversation called me to refocus on one of the most important aspects of mission: utilizing my privilege and serving in ways that honor the dignity of the person in front of me. I realized I needed to dive deeper to examine how I show up and use my privilege for the people I am serving with and for each day as I volunteer. 

Recently, I had a conversation with one person who was waiting in line for their appointment who has watched me cross back into the U.S. multiple times after my shifts at the Center. He came up to me and jokingly said: “When you cross through today, tell the agents to call us in for our appointments!” We laughed over this together, knowing that I unfortunately have no control over the time of their appointment, but having this conversation helped me to understand that the families waiting in line don’t necessarily look at me with animosity as I cross into the U.S. Rather, they smile and wave to me with the hope that soon they will be granted safety and will eventually join me in crossing into the U.S.

Questions for Reflection: What privileges do you experience in your life? How can you use your privileges to serve and uplift those around you?

Kim is originally from Kansas City, Missouri. She graduated with her bachelor's degree in social work in 2021 and has participated in domestic service programs since graduating. She is excited to accompany people on the margins of the international community along the U.S./Mexico Border. In her free time, Kim enjoys cooking, going for walks, reading, and spending time outdoors.