The Fordham faculty group arrived safe and sound in Nogales, Arizona on Sunday, March 17, and we began our mission that night, listening to Father Pete Neeley of the Kino Border Initiative who told us as we begin our work to remember the three guiding principles of KBI’s work: to humanize the migrants, to accompany them on their journey, and to complicate the issue by listening to all sides.
On Monday morning we met our KBI guide Katie Sharar, who took us across the border into Mexico. [At the bottom of this page is a slideshow of images of the border crossing) and then to the comedor, where recently deported migrants and those seeking asylum gather for a morning meal. On a typical Monday morning, when there are no court deportation actions over the weekend, there might be about 20-25 people being served. As we approached the comedor at 8:30 am, the line already stretched down the block and we ended up serving close to 200 people. Most of these people are staying in overcrowded shelters during the evenings, or renting places to stay, sometimes packing 8-10 people in one room.
When Jackie Reich was at KBI a year ago, the people coming to the comedor were mostly single men who had recently been deported from the US after trying to cross illegally or those planning to cross, with a few scattered women. This week we met mostly families with babies as young as 4 weeks old, fleeing violence and poverty in Mexican regions such as Guerrero and Oaxaca, or countries such as Honduras and Guatemala. We divided ourselves into groups: some served the meal, others chatted with the people waiting outside. Some people gladly talked to us. One young man described his arduous eight months journey from Nicaragua to here to escape the cartel violence in his country. The cartels had been pressuring him to sell drugs: he had been forcibly tattooed and beaten. Another family from Guerrero, traveling with three young children and leaving their oldest daughter behind, were seeking better medical treatment for their 6 year-old son who had brain injuries, learning disabilities, and gastrointestinal issues.
Some are poor and uneducated; others are university-educated. Almost all were sick: living in the shelters and overcrowded conditions breeds disease. Some of the children had chicken pox; others pink eye. Almost all of them were coughing and had runny noses. That morning the group No Mas Muertes/No More Deaths had brought in two nurses for care, as well as a check-cashing service and cell phones for free phone calls. KBI also has a social worker, a lawyer and others on staff to help the migrants with questions. There were many people volunteering at different points during the day: an American doing construction work in Mexico who had his afternoons free; a retiree who was moved by KBI’s mission and will be spending a month there to help them.
After the morning service we walked around Nogales. There are two major ports of entry in the town; the one we pass through is only for commercial and non-asylum seekers and thus had no pedestrian lines. The one at the main center of town had wait lines of over an hour. Going from the US to Mexico you can walk right through: no one even asks to see your passport. Nogales is a town divided: up until 9/11 you could cross freely back and forth, and it was a truly bi-national town. Now it’s dominated by the many dentists, plastic surgeons and pharmacies that cater to the American day tourists who come to Nogales for cheap medical and dental care.
We spent a lot of time walking along the wall, which now has concertina wire on the American side (the town of Nogales, Sonora wouldn’t allow it).
Written by Jackie Reich