The Rev. Mark Adams has a close-up view of U.S.-Mexican immigration problems, one that probably differs from that many embrace from afar.
The Clover native, whose bi-national border ministry links Agua Prieta, Sonora, Mexico, and Douglas, Ariz., in goals spiritual, humanitarian and even economic, will address the subject at Oakland Avenue Presbyterian Church on Dec. 10, Human Rights Day.
Adams, his wife, Miriam, and their children live in Agua Prieta, and he is on a five-month tour in the U.S. to thank those who have supported their mission, a ministry of the National Presbyterian Church of Mexico and the Presbyterian Church (USA).
"We did not choose immigration," Adams said in a Herald interview last week. "Immigration chose us. Families have people lost in the desert. How do we respond to deep human crisis? The church on both sides of the border responds out of faith rather than fear."
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Agua Prieta was a sleepy little border town until walls were erected in El Paso, Texas, and San Diego, Calif., in the mid-1990s to prevent Mexicans from illegally entering the U.S., Adams said. The walls served to reroute immigrants through the desert to enter the U.S. at Agua Prieta, he said.
New 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement regulations made it increasingly difficult for small farmers to subsist on their land, only exacerbating immigration problems. The U.S. also doubled its border patrol and has increased it since.
"These people do not want to leave their homes and their families," he said. "They cross the border so they can provide life to their families."
In 1997, a wall was erected at Agua Prieta/Douglas.
"More than 4,000 people died of dehydration crossing through sparsely populated areas," he said. "Others have never been found."
The mission set water bottles out in paths immigrants were known to travel, but many were vandalized, particularly on the U.S. side.
"Some people didn't agree with what we were doing," he said. "What should the penalty be? Death?"
The mission subsequently worked with the border patrol to place water on the Mexican side on trails where bodies had been found.
Adams refers to the irony of the walls: It is keeping immigrants in the U.S., he said, instead of crossing back and forth as they formerly did to be with their families.
"As more walls go up, it costs more to get across the border, and the risks of crossing are more dangerous," he said. "There also has been a growth in the number of women and children crossing because it is harder for the men to move back and forth."
He advocates comprehensive immigration reform that would register and document workers crossing the border and allow for more movement back and forth.
"That way, the border patrol can find more people coming into the U.S. for dangerous reasons," he said. "The idea of shutting the border completely is not going to work."
The mission provides medical, educational and other humanitarian aid as well as spiritual guidance to people at the border. He compares it to the parable of the Good Samaritan who aided a dying man whom others had shunned.
He refers to the humanitarian aid as "a Band-Aid. It doesn't address the root causes."
From that belief, Just Coffee was born. It is a cooperative among small coffee growers in southern Mexico near Nicaragua. They transport their beans by bus to Agua Prieta, where a church reserve loan funded a coffee bean roasting and packing company. The farmers do not have to deal with middlemen who cheat them, so they make enough profit to remain on their land.
Interest payments have allowed more cooperatives to be organized. Just Coffee roasted beans are being purchased by church groups and other mission supporters, but Adams hopes it can expand to a wider market. He also envisions farm cooperatives for chocolate and cashews.
"Many families are being reunited in Mexico because of this," he said.
Adams has a stock answer to questions about whether he knows that some people he cares for are illegal immigrants.
"We don't have the right or authority to determine immigration status," he said. "As people of faith, we see them as children of God."
Some people ask him if he supports illegal immigration.
"I don't want to support illegal immigration," he said. "But every time I buy an orange in a market, I am supporting illegal immigration. Ever time I walk into a building constructed in the last 10 years, I am supporting illegal immigration. I never asked, 'Is it legal to be a Christian?'"
An Oakland Presbyterian Church spokesman pointed out Jesus also "was once an immigrant when he and his parents escaped into Egypt. It is fitting that we look more closely at the immigration issue during the Advent season."