We LOVE Our Migrant Neighbors

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Adele Benson

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We LOVE Our Migrant Neighbors

The Kino Border Initiative Xavier Group in El Comedor.

The Kino Border Initiative Xavier Group in El Comedor.

The Kino Border Initiative Xavier Group in El Comedor.

The Kino Border Initiative Xavier Group in El Comedor.

The Kino Border Initiative (KBI) is a six-day immersion trip to Nogales, USA, and Mexico. Over the span of the six days students: follow immigrants paths as they hike in the desert, have Mass and potluck with rancheros, serve immigrants and asylum seekers in El Comedor, meet with border patrol, watch the court hearings of operation streamline, participate in an immigration simulation, and visit a women’s shelter. KBI’s mission is to promote U.S. and Mexico border and immigration that affirm the dignity of the human person and spirit of binational solidarity. One can do this through direct assistance and accompaniment with migrants, social and pastoral education with both U.S. and Mexican communities, and then participate in collaborative networks to transform immigration policies.

The group from Xavier traveling along immigrants’ paths in the desert.

The students and faculty present on the Kino Border Initiative immersion were: Adele Benson, Lexy Coronel, Alexa Kratochvil, Gavin Davis, Gavin Wessman, Eddie Sendejo, and Leticia Sendejo. Day one in Nogales consisted of a long seven-hour drive and an orientation to KBI. Day two was where the learning really began. After a long drive to the middle of the desert, the group learned about the conditions and equipment carried while hiking along the rugged desert terrain. After, they were able to hike some of the paths along the desert. During the hike, they encountered water jugs left for the immigrants in an abandoned house. Repeatedly these jugs contained the phrase “No more deaths”.

These jugs contain the phrases of humanitarian organizations.

Following the desert hike, the group was able to attend Mass with rancheros in the small town of Arivaca. During the after-Mass potluck, students were able to engage with residents of Arivaca who explained their woes about immigration and the drugs brought about by the border. Two specific rancheros, Jim and Sue, blamed the excess of smuggled drugs on backpacking immigrants. Their opinion was that these people and their drugs were intoxicating their country and had to be stopped by a wall as well as a road beside the wall. These opinions were not forced upon the Xavier students but broadened their views on the complicated subject of immigration.

Day three was the first day the group traveled across the border and into Mexico. The KBI participants traveled to visit El Comedor, a building designated to serving and support migrants and asylum seekers. There were three stations included serving food in the kitchen, serving drinks, or washing and drying dishes. In all situations, the Xavier kids were able to interact with the immigrants and hear of their own personal immigration stories.

Art and decorations surrounding the wall between the U.S. and Mexico.

After brunch, which had unusual numbers of people from 9 am to noon, the group had lunch in Nogales, Mexico and traveled around the city, learning about the wall and the city of Nogales itself. After the group returned to El Comedor for the dinner shift, they continued the tasks of service, meeting new people and providing shelter from the rain. The experience at El Comedor helped to put a face to the issues of immigration as well as asylum and humanize both processes.

A road trip to Tucson was scheduled on day four. Once arriving in Tucson, the group met with Joanna, the KBI coordinator, and traveled to the library to engage in an immigration simulation. Through this simulation, the group was able to see how difficult it is to be not only an immigrant but also that of a border patrol agent with the power to change someone’s life. After the immigration simulation and lunch, the group traveled to the courthouse in Tucson to watch the Operation Streamline hearings. Through Operation Streamline, the government can efficiently group migrants together and quickly convict them all of border crossing crime. Alexa Kratochvil explained that “seeing the migrants in shackles during the court hearing was very intense. I did not know they were going to be chained up. They looked so exhausted and hungry.” In this way, the government dehumanizes the migrants who are now treated like criminals.

The Xavier group celebrating two birthdays in the women’s shelter.

Day five brought a meeting with U.S. Border Patrol agents and a visit to the women’s shelter. At the border patrol office, the group was able to take a tour and learned about the different weapons used by the border patrol. They explained that at the border patrol, they “don’t shoot to kill, but shoot to stop the threat.” After the visit to the border patrol, the Xavier group crossed back over to Nogales, Mexico, and visited a women’s shelter. The shelter consisted of thirteen women and fifteen children. The Xavier group shared two birthday celebrations in the women’s shelter and learned that most of the women who stay there are filing for asylum to legally cross over to the U.S. to escape violence in their countries. For example, a woman named Julieca received a death note because her ex-boyfriend, and father of her son Nestor, was in a rival gang. She was forced to flee her home without telling any friends or family. The women also sold bracelets and jewelry to help raise money for the shelter.

On the final day, the Xavier group traveled to Mexico one final time to serve food in El Comedor. As the Kino Border Initiative students returned to Xavier, they wanted to raise awareness for immigration issues and advocate for students to be more present in such issues.

Xavier students making food in El Comedor’s kitchen.

The Kino Border Initiative immersion trip will leave participants with lasting ideas on immigration and with an experience they will never forget! Gavin Wessman explained that the trip “was an overall great experience because I did not only form relationships with the migrants but also improved my Spanish.”

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