essays on suffering and awakening

Softening our borders

Recent ICE raids on undocumented people are some of the latest in a long string of actions aimed at controlling who gets to live in America. Under presidents of both parties, the results are the same: families broken up, children crying, and people who come here to join our communities cast out into the cold.

Surely, we can do better than this.

Some argue that ICE and related agencies like the Border Patrol are simply enforcing the law. Fair enough. But when laws lead, over and over again, to the kind of pointless suffering embodied by a widely circulated video of a sobbing young girl interviewed after learning that her father had been arrested by ICE agents, well, it’s time to rethink our laws—and the assumptions that we build them on.

As a beginning: what if we start to soften our borders?

A map of my home county of Los Angeles shows borders everywhere: 88 individual cities, ranging from the eponymous city of 4 million to tiny Vernon, population 112. But to experience the streets at eye level is to see those borders revealed as illusion. A drive down iconic Santa Monica Boulevard may pass through no fewer than four cities with no more than a friendly road sign to mark the crossing from one distinct, legal entity to the next. 

Administratively important, sure. But in daily life, these divisions are simply not a big deal. 

The border between El Paso and Juarez is no more inherently solid than the line between West Hollywood and Beverly Hills. Indeed, with patience and luck, one could walk from Alaska to Chile, encountering people of good will at every stop along the way. 

Borders are only as serious as we choose to make them. We could ease a lot of suffering by taking that in. 

What could softer borders look like? The free movement of people among member states of the European Union is illustrative. A similar agreement between the governments of the Americas could unite all pan-American peoples while sustaining national sovereignty.

Softer borders, though, is something we can practice in our own lives too. As anyone who has spent time stuck in traffic can grudgingly understand, our individual lives are inextricably caught up in a greater whole. Rather than trying to wall ourselves off from that, as so many of us do, we can ask: how can I open myself up to it all? How can I use my unique experience, not to separate myself from the community, but to serve it? 

Instead of trying to hold fast to rigid lines, can we allow ourselves to be shaped by the ever changing now?

To witness the hurt we cause our immigrants is to see the cost of taking borders too seriously. What if we soften our borders instead?

Ian Cooper