McALLEN — A group of 25 faith-based activists from across the country biked on the border here and in Reynosa on Saturday in an effort to bring awareness to local immigration issues.
The biking organization, We the People, is a storytelling initiative aiming to spotlight the border and immigration policies’ impact on the Rio Grande Valley region.
The group began its journey on Sept. 11 from San Diego, California and crossed into Tijuana, Mexico. Since then the group has garnered 1,578 miles, with 1,600 more to go before reaching its destination of St. Augustine, Florida.
Doug Pagitt, executive director of Vote Common Good, an initiative to get people of Christian faith to vote with a humanitarian-centered intention, said the group’s mission is to get close to the situations that are talked about within the country and experience first-hand the conditions migrants have traveled.
We the People have crossed the U.S. border eight times and have stayed overnight in migrant camps.
“One of the ways to be close is you have to go there and you have to go slow,” Pagitt said. “So, we’ve realized that by traveling slowly we’re able to see things and experience things.”
He said what prompted the ride was his desire to raise awareness for the humanitarian border crisis being faced in border towns such as McAllen.
The organization’s next stop is in Brownsville.
“They’re not the same stories, they’re different in all the places that we go, but the conditions are very similar and the people are all the same and if we can establish a perspective around immigration policy that is people centered, we think there’s a solution,” Pagitt said.
He believes the narrative about border and immigration issues are skewed by policies and wants to bring awareness for those unfamiliar with the region.
The organization is also working on a documentary to bring the issue to life.
“We want people of faith to pay attention to these issues,” Pagitt said. “Oftentimes, people of faith think one way on Sunday, very compassionately, and then act a different way on Tuesday when it’s voting time and we want them to bring those two worlds together.”
Vanessa Ryerse, a pastor from Springville, Arkansas, said she made the journey to report back to her community what she learned.
“We see things on the news and we see things from other religious leaders, but unless you’re seeing it first hand, that can be skewed,” Ryerse said.
She said she became invested in the political situation when Trump was elected president in 2017 because 81% of evangelical Christians voted for Trump and she “didn’t feel like he was a reflection of Christianity.”
“We are supposed to be people of faith, not of fear,” Ryerse said. “And when we assign malignant stories that people are just trying to get in; they’re not trying to follow the rules; they’re trying to take something from the people that are here; they’re criminals; they’re rapists whatever — that’s not faith; that’s fear.
And that’s expressly what we’re not supposed to do.”
Alma Ruth, director of the Practice Mercy Foundation, a faith-based nonprofit that takes a grassroot and holistic approach to supporting women and children who are seeking refuge in McAllen, said she welcomes We the People for humanizing the conversation about immigration.
“I think we as locals should pay attention to that and what can we do to make things better, what can we do to save people’s lives,” Ruth said of the activists’ intentions.
Practice Mercy visits Reynosa weekly to support and help migrant women and children with food, shelter and other necessities.
Will McCorkle, the nonprofit’s immigration policy expert from Charleston, South Carolina, said it is past time for the U.S. to restore asylum.
“What we’re doing right now is against all international human rights,” McCorkle said. “We’re basically strong-arming Mexico into hosting people and they’re not event hosting people. It’s a mess.”
McCorkle’s remarks come as the Migrant Protection Protocols, otherwise known as the Trump-era Remain in Mexico policy, is set to restart, as previously reported by The Monitor.
He said he became passionate about the issues on immigration after teaching many migrant and asylum seeking students in South Carolina.
As an advocate for humanity he said it is often difficult to see situations become worse for families in Reynosa.
McCorkle said he has witnessed families living on the ground with no tent or coverings for shelter. Amid the pandemic, he said these conditions are extremely concerning.
“I think we are going to look back at this time in our history and just be like, ‘How did we allow this to happen,’” McCorkle said.