Celebrating and Strategizing

Twenty-five years ago, a small organization started inviting different groups of people to go on educational trips to the U.S.-Mexico border.

The organization, now known as BorderLinks, calls these trips "delegations," and they give volunteers the opportunity to meet and speak with recently deported migrants, as well as migrants who were en route north. The purpose is for these volunteers to get a better understanding of the reasons why migrants leave their native countries, and to bring attention to the injustices migrants often encounter when they cross into the land of opportunity.

It was during one of these delegations that Elsbeth Pollack, BorderLinks' current development coordinator, realized she wanted to be a permanent part of this movement.

"Five years ago, I went on one of the delegations to Agua Prieta, Sonora, and it was one of the most powerful experiences I've had," Pollack said. "It is a great way to connect with communities on the border and learn more about what is currently going on there."

For Pollack and others working at BorderLinks, it is amazing to look back at the organization's local and national 25-year trajectory. This year, at La Lucha Sigue Conference, BorderLinks will celebrate the changes it has sparked by using education as the main tool to promote a more-humane approach to border issues and illegal immigration.

La Lucha Sigue (The Struggle Continues) will also celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Sanctuary Movement, which started in Tucson and provided refuge for Central American immigrants at various religious congregations. The conference also will honor the 10th anniversary of Samaritans, a local organization that helps migrants in their journey across the Sonoran Desert.

"We realized that these important anniversaries were coming up, so we began to plan an event where we could recognize them and celebrate those who have played an important part in the struggle for migrant rights," said the Rev. Alison Harrington, pastor at Southside Presbyterian Church.

Harrington, along with other members of local humanitarian organizations, began planning La Lucha Sigue in April. The event is intended not only as a celebration, but also as a melting pot for ideas to develop better strategies to fight anti-migrant sentiments. The conference was scheduled post-election so that the organizations could get a feel for what the country's political landscape may look like.

"Pressure for permanent immigration reform began the very next day after the elections," said Harrington. "It is time to strategize how we are going to move forward, locally and nationally, in the movement to defend the dignity of all people."

Southside Presbyterian played a key role in the Sanctuary Movement, which began in 1982, when the pastor at the time, the Rev. John Fife, and other members announced they would convert it into a sanctuary for undocumented immigrants from Central America who were fleeing persecution by their governments. Southside's stance soon spread to other congregations across the country.

BorderLinks, the Samaritans, Southside Presbyterian and other groups are still fighting to make our community more welcoming to migrants and more sensitive to their situations. Whether through educational modules or in-the-field work, all of these organizations have contributed to the movement.

"Through these 25 years, BorderLinks has also been able to create a strong partnership with all the other organizations that (also) work with border-related issues," Pollack said. "It is amazing to see the impact we all have helped bring."

BorderLinks' delegations are open to people from around the country. Pollack said it is rewarding that, after participating in a delegation, the members take what they have learned back to their home cities and towns.

The two-day La Lucha Sigue conference will include panel discussions, lectures, strategy sessions and debates led by community organizers and guest speakers, such as the Rev. Alexia Salvatierra, the executive director of Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice in California; and Pablo Alvarado, the national coordinator of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network.

"We are a community that is living in fear. Because of the current immigration policies, so many families are being torn apart. The deaths along the border continue," Harrington said. "This conference is a wonderful opportunity to come together and find ways to appeal for the dignity of every individual, every family, and the value of every life."