Paul Ouderkirk was on retreat in Dubuque on May 12, 2008, when someone tapped him on the shoulder and asked him why he wasn’t 75 miles away in Postville. The Catholic priest did not know that earlier that day, federal authorities had launched the nation’s largest ever single-site immigration raid on the Agriprocessors kosher meatpacking plant in Postville and arrested 389 people. The Spanish-speaking Ouderkirk had served St. Bridget’s Catholic Church in Postville—a quiet community of 2,400 people—before his retirement. When he heard about the government’s action, he returned immediately to Postville and resumed his role as parish pastor.
In the fall of 2006, when Lake Avenue Baptist Church in Rochester, New York, began welcoming refugees from Burma, we had no idea what we were getting into. In the spring of 2007 there were 30 refugees from Burma in Rochester; by 2007 there were 200, and by now there are almost 400, with many more expected. Rochester is a microcosm of what is happening quietly across this continent and in many other nations.
For generations residents of San Diego and Tijuana have gathered at Friendship Park to visit with family and friends through the border fence. In coming months the Department of Homeland Security will erect a secondary fence across the park, eliminating public access to this historic meeting place. Until then, I will serve Communion at Friendship Park each Sunday afternoon, distributing the elements through the border fence.
The collapse of immigration reform legislation is best understood not as a failure of short-term political leadership, but rather as an inevitable long-term consequence of NAFTA. NAFTA’s architects believed that as goods and services began to flow in unprecedented volume throughout the world’s largest free market, low-wage labor would remain largely fixed.Unfortunately, the unleashed forces of the free market uprooted longstanding social and economic arrangements in Mexico and caused the already meager economic opportunities, especially in the rural parts of the country, to evaporate. Millions of Mexican people—the bearers of cheap labor—were compelled to seek out their most rational reallocation.