- Associated Press - Sunday, August 6, 2017

LAS CRUCES, N.M. (AP) - Faith leaders from across the country visited the U.S.-Mexico border and spoke to immigrants as part of a program in New Mexico aimed at drawing attention to immigrants fighting deportation.

The advocacy group New Mexico Communities in Action and Faith invited the 30 faith leaders to tour the border in New Mexico last week, the Las Cruces Sun-News reported (https://goo.gl/5sGNy6).

The gathering was aimed, in part, at protesting a homeland security funding measure that calls for increasing the number of federal law enforcement agents along the border and building a border wall.

New Mexico Communities in Action and Executive Director Sarah Silva said clergy across the U.S. care deeply about what’s happening on the border.

“They are showing up ready to fight for the humanity of all immigrants,” Silva said.

The group’s tour began at Las Cruces federal courthouse, where participants observed mass court proceedings for defendants arrested on suspicion of illegally crossing into the U.S.

Half of the group then traveled to the city of Sunland Park and visited the towering border fence there. Afterward, they toured the unincorporated community of Vado.

The other half of the group traveled north and went through a Border Patrol immigration checkpoint on Interstate 25, north of Las Cruces. Later, they visited the small town of Hatch and heard stories from immigrants.

Adriana Guzman, a member of the group from San Francisco, described seeing the border fence in person as “painful.”

She and the other participants toured a small section of the fence for about 20 minutes. She became visibly overcome by emotion when she looked through the metal barrier and saw Mexico on the other side.

“I felt so many feelings,” she said. “I’m Mexican, and there was Mexico. With those metal bars, I felt like I was in jail at that moment.”

Guzman and others said they were shocked when they witnessed the Bush-era “Operation Streamline” in action at the federal courthouse and realized that illegal entry cases were heard en masse.

Operation Streamline, a policy begun in 2005, mandates that immigrants crossing the border illegally in certain areas be prosecuted through the federal criminal justice system.

Proposals to build a wall and increase the presence of Border Patrol agents along the U.S.-Mexico border have drawn support from some Republicans. However, Republican Rep. Steve Pearce of Hobbs, who represents the area the activists toured, voted last month against funding for the border wall.

“We’ve been pretty straightforward with (President Donald) Trump that there are better ways to secure the border than this long, expensive wall,” Pearce said.

Sarah Klaassen, of Columbia, Missouri, went through a border checkpoint for the first time during the gathering.

“I actually didn’t even know there were interior checkpoints,” Klaassen said. She called the experience “eye-opening.”

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