High school students from around the country—moved by the migrant crisis and committed to change—gathered at the border for the first Kino Teens Leadership Days.
In June, eleven student representatives from eight schools across the U.S. participated in the first-ever Kino Teens Leadership Days, sponsored by the Kino Border Initiative. Part immersion experience, part symposium, training camp and reflection opportunity, the four-day gathering focused on learning more about the reality of the border; determining ways to accompany migrants even from afar and to work within one’s community to raise awareness about immigration issues; and building a network of young leaders throughout the U.S. dedicated to affecting change.
Starting and ending each day with a prayer or reflection, the students followed a full schedule of meetings, trainings, and visits, with meals and evenings for solidifying the friendship and solidarity developed during such concentrated work and thoughtful discussion. Many of the students had visited the border before or been members of their local Kino Teens chapter, and all came from schools who have sent immersion groups to the KBI over the past year.
Over the four days, the students served meals at the comedor and listened to stories directly from the migrants there and at Casa Nazareth, the KBI’s shelter. They visited Operation Streamline proceedings in Tucson, where group prosecutions of migrants often overlook potential asylum claims and result in expedited deportation and family separation. And they walked along the desert border in the footsteps of the migrants, a brief, but powerful, introduction to the difficulty and dangers of the crossing.
Back at Casa Saeta, the KBI’s lodging for visiting groups, the students discussed the border crisis, attitudes about migration in their schools and communities, and the struggle for immigration reform. In workshops, they learned about leadership tools and skills they could use to educate and advocate on behalf of migrants, developed a vision for advocacy moving forward, and laid out concrete plans for implementing that vision and staying in touch with other participants once everyone returned home. Drawing on work done before the gathering, they shared prepared presentations on topics such as the role of the U.S. Border Patrol, deaths in the desert, human trafficking, unaccompanied children, and the impact of drug cartels and violence on immigration.
The Kino Teens Leadership Days closed on a note of camaraderie and commitment, with a Mass celebrated by Father Pete and a chance for these young advocates to share what the gathering meant to them. Here are some of their thoughts about their life-altering experience at the border and their commitment, today and in the future, to accompanying the migrants who struggle for better lives and family reunion:
- “This experience made me more knowledgeable about immigration issues, and made me want to be an advocate for change.”
- “Hands-down the most memorable and worthwhile experience of my life.”
- “I feel empowered and compelled to start a Kino Teens club in my school so that everyone can share in the experience.”
- “It has given me more info and much more motivation to change the problem and make it better and advocate.”
- “Seeing the faith in the comedor has impacted me to such great limits. I want their relationship with God, and after seeing everything, I can’t just go back to my normal life.”
- “This program was amazing, awe-inspiring, and life-changing.”
- “It has made me realize the difference we can make, and given me a sense of responsibility to improve the lives of these migrants and all others.”
THANK YOU: The KBI would like to acknowledge the efforts and commitment of the student participants and their schools: Alejandra Natera and Clarissa Martinez, St. Ignatius College Prep, Chicago, IL; Lauren Cueto, St Ignatius College Preparatory, San Francisco, CA; Michael Fissinger, Loyola High School, Los Angeles, CA; Duncan McDonald, Gonzaga College High School, Washington, D.C.; Juan Lopez Salazar and Matthew Zacher, Brophy College Preparatory, Phoenix, AZ; Nico Saavedra, Saint Augustine Catholic High School, Tucson, AZ; Pilar Cota, San Miguel High School, Tucson, AZ; and Ana Gonzalez and Yamelle Gonzalez, Lourdes Catholic School, Nogales, AZ. Also, heartfelt thanks to Our Lady of Consolation Commission on Justice, Peace and the Integrity of Creation for their funding; Kim Miller from the Ignatian Solidarity Network and Teresita Scully from Lourdes Catholic School (and the Kino Teens coordinator there) for assisting KBI staff Joanna Williams and Father Pete Neeley, S.J. in facilitating the experience; the parents of the Lourdes Kino Teens for preparing a Mexican fiesta night for the students; and Lourdes Kino Teens alumni for sharing their wisdom with this next class of leaders. ¡Muchísimas gracias!