A Nonviolence Movement on the Border

Activists and ordinary people on US-Mexico border put nonviolence into action in response to migration crisis.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. taught us the power of nonviolent resistance, such as protests, grassroots organizing and civil disobedience in order to achieve seemingly impossible goals. A major factor in the success of the civil rights movement was the strategy of protesting without using violence.

King was inspired by the teachings of Indian leader Mahatma Gandhi, who referred to nonviolence as a force fueled by truth and love. Practicing nonviolence, he taught, means a person should seek truth and love while refusing, through nonviolent resistance, to participate in something he or she believes is wrong. This principle guided Gandhi’s activism against British colonial rule in India, helping India win independence in 1947.

As a Christian, Dr. King connected the principle of nonviolence to Jesus’ appeal to “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”

King wrote, “I came to see for the first time that the Christian doctrine of love operating through the Gandhian method of nonviolence was one of the most potent weapons available to oppressed people in their struggle for freedom.”

In recent months, grassroots organizers, community activists and ordinary people across the United States have put love and nonviolence into action in response to the U.S. government’s militaristic approach to the humanitarian crisis on the U.S.-Mexico border, where record numbers of migrant families have been requesting asylum.

Last fall, Maryknoll Sisters Lelia Mattingly and Margaret Sierra joined vigils at the Tornillo immigrant child detention center located about an hour from their home in El Paso, Texas, lending their voices to the call to close the facility that had grown into a tent city imprisoning thousands of immigrant children indefinitely. At the same time, the Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns in Washington, D.C., joined dozens of faith-based and community organizations in asking Congress to end the detention of migrant children.

After six months of persistent grassroots organizing and nonviolent protest, the Tornillo facility was shut down.

People of faith and goodwill continue to practice nonviolent resistance toward the current border policy. Through demonstrations, prayer vigils, grassroots organizing, cultural and community exchanges and political action, we are working to create a new narrative about the U.S.-Mexico border and transform people’s attitudes toward the border from that of a battlefield into what Pope Francis says the Church should be like: a field hospital where wounds are healed and the hearts of the faithful are strengthened.

Faith in action:
• Sign a petition to close an immigrant child detention facility in Homestead, Florida. http://bit.ly/CloseHomestead
• Gather to pray for immigrant children. You may want to use a prayer writ- ten by Education for Justice. http://bit.ly/Prayer4Migrants
• Find local and national actions to take with Families Belong Together. https://www.familiesbelongtogether.org/
• Read and share the latest report by the Hope Border Institute on the militarization of the border and the criminalization of migrants who live and pass through there. https://www.hopeborder.org/

The Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns, based in Washington, D.C., is a resource for Maryknoll on matters of peace, social justice and integrity of creation, and brings Maryknoll’s mission experience into U.S. policy discussions. Phone (202) 832-1780, visit www.maryknollogc.org or email ogc@maryknollogc.org.

Featured Image: People gather on the steps of the Cathedral of the Assumption in Louisville, Ky., July 12, 2019, to hold a vigil for immigrants in detention centers along the U.S. southern border and protest their living conditions. Local faith leaders and concerned citizens prayed for migrants, refugees and asylum-seekers at the “Lights for Liberty: A Vigil to End Human Detention Camps.” (CNS photo, J. Able, The Record/U.S.)

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About the author

Susan Gunn

Susan Gunn is director of the Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns.