Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Kino Border Initiative

Fr. Sean, a Jesuit priest, celebrated Mass at our parish one weekend. He spoke of his new ministry of aiding deported families in Nogales, Sonora-Mexico. In talking to him after Mass he said their program depends alot on volunteers and many teen and college groups help out. Through many emails we set a date to bring our Jr. High students to observe the migrant project in action. The parents of the students did not want their child crossing the border. Plan B-the students would stay at Lourdes Catholic High School in Nogales, AZ and myself and our pastor, Fr. Ariel and our school nurse, Dot would go across the border.

One of the six Jesuit priests who minister at the border met us at Lourdes Catholic High School. From there we rode in Fr. Ariel's car. We parked outside the border because the wait to come back into the country would be too long because so many Mexicans are crossing the border now to shop in Tucson for Christmas. As we began to walk it began to rain.

Your first taste of the migrant plight is seeing the caged area they must walk in when the bus drops drop them off on the U.S. side. One side is rocks and rest is a wired cage-top and side that they walk through to Mexico. We walk along side them in the open space. The cage is to keep them from escaping back into the U.S. and also to shame them. We were not allowed to take pictures here, the border agents watched you the whole time till you crossed the border.

You knew immediately when you stepped into Mexico. The poverty hits you in the face. Right on the border is the Jesuit place-Kino Border Initiative-where migrants may come. They are fed two hot meals a day here and can only stay here two weeks. The land is owned by the city of Nogales but the building belongs to the Jesuits but was paid for with money donated by the city of Nogales. The mayor was embarrassed because every border city has a place for deported migrants except them so he willingly paid for one to be built. The Kino Border Initiative came about at the request of Bishop Kicanas, of Tucson. It is supported by the Diocese of Tucson and CRS, which the Bishop chairs. Many donations come in. The Methodist Church of southern California donated hundreds of blankets, which each migrant receives one.

On entering the migrant shelter you see it has a metal roof and the sides are heavy canvas and one side is rock as it is built into the rocks. The floor is concrete. Very dim lighting and crowded. There were about 20 people to a table, sitting very close. One row of just women, three rows of men and a back row for families. There was only one family there. I talked with them and they spoke English. The dad worked at PopEye Chicken in Alburqurque, New Mexico. His wife was sick and the U.S. docotrs could not figure out the problem. She came back to Mexico for medical help and the doctors discovered she had three hernias which they operated on. They had two little boys, ages 3 and 5 who were U.S. citizens because they were born in the U.S. They want to go back to the U.S. so their boys can be educated but it is too hard now crossing the border.
Before they are fed a meal today because it was so cold and rainy, they received a large plastic cup of coffee or hot chocolate and animal crackers. One of the Jesuit priests prays with them before the meal is served. One of the three Mexican Sisters who works in the project explains what they expect of them and the services they can offer them: help to locate their family in Mexico, help in getting a bus ticket to where their family is in Mexico,and medical help. Women and children (no boy older than 10 years old) may stay in their women's shelter. Men stay in a cheap hotel or in the public housing for migrants.

While we were with the migrants, a young, good looking Mexican in his 30's came to the wire gate of the shelter. The Jesuit priest immediately said, "Don't let him in. He is a "coyote" who buys and sells people".

As volunteers we helped serve the food. We passed the plastic plates filled with beans, rice, macaroni and a tamale to the migrants in assembly line fashion. After the meal was done we helped to dry the dishes.

A Jesuit PreNovitiate candidate from Mexico and Fr. Ariel.

Because it was raining very hard and the streets were muddy we were taken by truck to see the clinic for women.

Clinic for migrant women.

There is a nurse from Mexico who treats the migrant women. The most common things she treats them  for are feet problems from walking the desert for days and weeks and for cacti bites. The University of AZ sends their nursing students here at times  for their emergency medicne practicum. Often times the Mexicans wander for weeks, months in the desert of their country before they reach the U.S. border. Often times they are lost in their own desert and the government agency called "Grupo" go out into the Mexican deserts looking for lost Mexican migrants and pick them up and bring them to Nogales.

After this we went to see the housing they are able to provide to women and children. It is a high rise the government no longer wanted. One of the apartments here is the convent for the Sisters and for a volunteer from Georgetown University student who took the semester off to experience the life of a migrant. She is an immigration major and wants to work in immigration. In asking what she has learned from her experience she said, " It is to wake up each morning with a spirit of hope and not despair. This is what  I have learned from the migrants."

We went through the mud and flowing water into the highrise where we watched a power point presentation on the women they have helped. On the walls of the room are posters from the United Nations telling of women's rights.
We then went back to the main project area. No one was left there except for the volunteers, Jesuit priests and the Mexican Sisters. They were peeling potatoes for the next meal. All of the food is donated from both sides of the border and the Sisters cook the meals. The cats are walking on the floor eating any scraps that fell.

After all have gone,the empty migrant shelter.

Because of the down pour of rain at this time we got a ride to the border. We walked to the border agent to present our passport one at a time. Myself and the Jesuit priest got through ok. Fr.Ariel and Dot who are Filipino were detained and put in a room to be asked questions. The Jesuit priest and myself had to stand outside in the rain waiting for them. We were not allowed in the building; a border patrol was inside by the door with a rifle keeping all of us out. After 10 minutes they were allowed to leave. They were detained because they were Filipinos. Fr. Ariel has a green card and Dot has a U.S. passport. The Jesuit priest says he sometimes gets detained and questioned because he has a beard and mustache and that creates suspicion that he might be an Al Quaida terrorist from Mexico.

In asking why Mexcio is so poor right now the answer I got is that the U.S. set up factories in Mexico but then closed them and opened them in China because the labor is cheaper there. In Mexico they had to pay the workers $7 a day. Also, because of the drug cartel problem Mexicans are trying to leave the country to get away from it.

The Jesuits asked that even if we can't bring volunteers down to help if we would form a committee in our parish or on our student council for migration. Many have pro-life and other committees but nothing on migration. Bishop Kicanas wants his priests and people of the diocese to be educated about the plight of the migrant and that is why he so strongly supports this project. It was an eye opener for me. It is a day I will not forget and yes, I will continue to study the migrant plight and hopefully have my Student Council learn about it and do a fundraiser for it.

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