I wanted to give an update to my loyal readers (It’s officially plural now that Martin Lack is reading) about some changes in my current work and context. First, let me explain that my method for blogging while living in rural Bolivia was to write posts at my leisure and then schedule posts when we visited Santa Cruz. I have posts scheduled for Mondays and Wednesdays through October from my time in Bolivia. However, I am no longer actually in Bolivia. Most of my posts coming up are not specifically about the Bolivian context, but at least one is specifically about the political situation in Bolivia. You can read the email newsletter update we sent out a couple weeks ago here.
Which brings me to why we no longer are in Bolivia. I don’t want to get into all the details, but there was some trouble with our work visas. MCC had brought workers into Bolivia for a long time one way and now the government is requiring the process to be changed. We were unfortunately caught in the middle. Our country representative did an incredible job on our behalf trying to make it possible for us to stay, making multiple trips to La Paz in the same week.
In the end the government decided that we had to leave the country. We were deported. This is not an experience that many North Americans, particularly the lighter skinned ones, have had. Although as the Latino population increases a greater percent of the population will have direct connections to people with this experience. When we first received the call from our boss saying that the government was asking us to leave, we were in shock. Even though we had done nothing wrong and it was not our fault, there was still a sinking feeling of guilt, rejection and shame.
Our first attempt to come home, we got up at 3am to go to the airport for a 6:20am flight. When we arrived immigration told us that we could not take the flight because it stopped in Panama City. It had to be a direct flight. When we finally left the country the next day, the immigration officer kept our passports and boarding passes. He passed them on to someone working with the airline. That person handed them to a stewardess on our flight. When we arrived in Panama City, we were instructed to stay on the plane until all of the passengers left. Then another immigration officer escorted us to the immigration offices where we waited for three hours until our next flight. The passports and passes were handed off again and we weren’t allowed to even touch them until we went through immigration in Houston.
While we were waiting in Bolivia to be deported, we reflected on our experience and the experience of immigrants (documented and undocumented) in our home country. We could feel a certain amount of empathy with how scary it feels to be deported, or live with the fear of that possibility. However, we also reflected on how different it was for us compared to our immigrant brothers and sisters in the USA. We had native speakers working on our behalf with the Bolivian government. Not many immigrants can afford that. We had a safe place to stay while the situation was worked out. Many immigrants are taken away from their families to detention centers and held without contact. We had a community to come back to in our home country. Many immigrants who get deported from the USA were born there, do not speak Spanish and have no support system in their “home” country.
While this experience has been a shock and a difficult one for our family, we feel very lucky to have the support system and community around us to help us through whatever happens. Please pray for all those people who find themselves dealing with deportation. Human beings are never illegal and nation-states are just dreams with imaginary borders.