KINO BORDER INITIATIVE Nogales, Mexico
- Andy Welles, Companion
Sr. Frances and I had for several months talked about going to Arizona to volunteer in a mission with other Mary Ward Companions. During the assembly last October we had heard of the work some of the Companions had been involved in through the Kino Border Initiative. We both said that we wanted to go.
The location I was in is very unassuming, simple white stucco clad building, no signage to call attention to itself. The offices inside can be described the same as the front of the building ‘bare bones’ but gets the job done. All the resources seem to go to the work of the mission. Javier took the time to explain to me the mission’s history and its purpose. When hearing the human stories and struggles of the people coming to the border that Javier related to me and the peoples’ efforts to just apply for asylum in this country, it gives you pause. You quickly realize that the news we hear does not do justice to their struggles and that there are many layers to the current immigration issues at our southern border. It cannot be summed up in a sound bite.
My job for the morning was assembling care packages for men on the Mexico side of the border. I was in a warehouse area full of donations of all sorts of items, clothing, personal hygiene products, shoes etc. I was able to package up roughly 100 kits containing a tooth brush, tooth paste, deodorant, bar soap, lotion, and shampoo. These kits would then be sent to the other side of the border to be distributed. Most of the kits that I was assembling would be handed out to men that had been living in this country but now are in Mexico after having been deported. Their families, wives, US born children remain in the states. Their only hope is to appeal the deportation decision if it is possible with an attorney.
Attorneys cost precious money. In the past they would go to the fence to see their families and reach through to touch their children but I was told that the US is putting up a mesh screen on the fence so that is not possible.
By the middle of the afternoon my companions returned to pick me up and start our three hour trip back to Phoenix. Approximately 40 miles north of the Arizona-Mexico border we had to go through a police checkpoint. The cars began to slow, we all had to get in a single line and at a point we stopped. Officers with military type firearms were on both side of us along with police dogs, they slowly went around the car with dogs and mirrors to look under the car. The entire experience was less than a minute and we were on our way. The officers were polite, I will admit, but I kept thinking that this did not feel like I was in the US.
The entire experience stirs up many feelings when reflecting on it. I think of the plight of the desperate families wanting to get to the US, as so many of our forbearers did. I think of how the news cycle is not putting the human face on the story of these people. I think of what it would take to make you pack-up your family and walk for months to the US border just in the hope of attaining a better life. The challenge given to us in the verses from Matthew 25:35, 36 and 40 echo in my head, “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in. I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me. Truly I tell you, whatever you did to one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”
Finally, I wonder if the time is over when the downtrodden who could make it to our country will be allowed in to start a new life and add their stories to ours, enriching what makes up the fabric of this nation.
The last three sentences of that famous nineteenth century poem keep going through my mind. “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to be free. The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me. I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
Poem by Emma Lazarus, “The New Colossus,” on the bronze plaque at the base of the Statue of Liberty.