Church without Frontiers, Mother to All

By: Roxane Ramos

In anticipation of the 2015 World Day of Migrants and Refugees, Pope Francis sends a message of peaceful coexistence, inclusion and compassion.

Pope Francis, welcomed by a crowd in Varginha, Brazil, July 2013. Public domain image from Wiki Commons, photo by Tânia Rêgo.

Pope Francis, welcomed by a crowd in Varginha, Brazil, July 2013.
Public domain image from Wiki Commons, photo by Tânia Rêgo.

ENGLISH:

Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Jesus is “the evangelizer par excellence and the Gospel in person” (Evangelii Gaudium, 209). His solicitude, particularly for the most vulnerable and marginalized, invites all of us to care for the frailest and to recognize his suffering countenance, especially in the victims of new forms of poverty and slavery. The Lord says: “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me” (Mt 25:35-36). The mission of the Church, herself a pilgrim in the world and the Mother of all, is thus to love Jesus Christ, to adore and love him, particularly in the poorest and most abandoned; among these are certainly migrants and refugees, who are trying to escape difficult living conditions and dangers of every kind. For this reason, the theme for this year’s World Day of Migrants and Refugees is: Church without frontiers, mother to all.

The Church opens her arms to welcome all people, without distinction or limits, in order to proclaim that “God is love” (1 Jn 4:8,16). After his death and resurrection, Jesus entrusted to the disciples the mission of being his witnesses and proclaiming the Gospel of joy and mercy. On the day of Pentecost, the disciples left the Upper Room with courage and enthusiasm; the strength of the Holy Spirit overcame their doubts and uncertainties and enabled all to understand the disciples’ preaching in their own language. From the beginning, the Church has been a mother with a heart open to the whole world, and has been without borders. This mission has continued for two thousand years. But even in the first centuries, the missionary proclamation spoke of the universal motherhood of the Church, which was then developed in the writings of the Fathers and taken up by the Second Vatican Council. The Council Fathers spoke of Ecclesia Mater to explain the Church’s nature. She begets sons and daughters and “takes them in and embraces them with her love and in her heart” (Lumen Gentium, 14).

The Church without frontiers, Mother to all, spreads throughout the world a culture of acceptance and solidarity, in which no one is seen as useless, out of place or disposable. When living out this motherhood effectively, the Christian community nourishes, guides and indicates the way, accompanying all with patience, and drawing close to them through prayer and works of mercy.

Today this takes on a particular significance. In fact, in an age of such vast movements of migration, large numbers of people are leaving their homelands, with a suitcase full of fears and desires, to undertake a hopeful and dangerous trip in search of more humane living conditions. Often, however, such migration gives rise to suspicion and hostility, even in ecclesial communities, prior to any knowledge of the migrants’ lives or their stories of persecution and destitution. In such cases, suspicion and prejudice conflict with the biblical commandment of welcoming with respect and solidarity the stranger in need.

On the other hand, we sense in our conscience the call to touch human misery, and to put into practice the commandment of love that Jesus left us when he identified himself with the stranger, with the one who suffers, with all the innocent victims of violence and exploitation. Because of the weakness of our nature, however, “we are tempted to be that kind of Christian who keeps the Lord’s wounds at arm’s length” (Evangelii Gaudium, 270).

The courage born of faith, hope and love enables us to reduce the distances that separate us from human misery. Jesus Christ is always waiting to be recognized in migrants and refugees, in displaced persons and in exiles, and through them he calls us to share our resources, and occasionally to give up something of our acquired riches. Pope Paul VI spoke of this when he said that “the more fortunate should renounce some of their rights so as to place their goods more generously at the service of others” (Octogesima Adveniens, 23).

The multicultural character of society today, for that matter, encourages the Church to take on new commitments of solidarity, communion and evangelization. Migration movements, in fact, call us to deepen and strengthen the values needed to guarantee peaceful coexistence between persons and cultures. Achieving mere tolerance that respects diversity and ways of sharing between different backgrounds and cultures is not sufficient. This is precisely where the Church contributes to overcoming frontiers and encouraging the “moving away from attitudes of defensiveness and fear, indifference and marginalization … towards attitudes based on a culture of encounter, the only culture capable of building a better, more just and fraternal world” (Message for the World Day of Migrants and Refugees 2014).

Migration movements, however, are on such a scale that only a systematic and active cooperation between States and international organizations can be capable of regulating and managing such movements effectively. For migration affects everyone, not only because of the extent of the phenomenon, but also because of “the social, economic, political, cultural and religious problems it raises, and the dramatic challenges it poses to nations and the international community” (Caritas in Veritate, 62).

At the international level, frequent debates take place regarding the appropriateness, methods and required norms to deal with the phenomenon of migration. There are agencies and organizations on the international, national and local level which work strenuously to serve those seeking a better life through migration. Notwithstanding their generous and laudable efforts, a more decisive and constructive action is required, one which relies on a universal network of cooperation, based on safeguarding the dignity and centrality of every human person. This will lead to greater effectiveness in the fight against the shameful and criminal trafficking of human beings, the violation of fundamental rights, and all forms of violence, oppression and enslavement. Working together, however, requires reciprocity, joint-action, openness and trust, in the knowledge that “no country can singlehandedly face the difficulties associated with this phenomenon, which is now so widespread that it affects every continent in the twofold movement of immigration and emigration” (Message for the World Day of Migrants and Refugees 2014).

It is necessary to respond to the globalization of migration with the globalization of charity and cooperation, in such a way as to make the conditions of migrants more humane. At the same time, greater efforts are needed to guarantee the easing of conditions, often brought about by war or famine, which compel whole peoples to leave their native countries.
Solidarity with migrants and refugees must be accompanied by the courage and creativity necessary to develop, on a world-wide level, a more just and equitable financial and economic order, as well as an increasing commitment to peace, the indispensable condition for all authentic progress.

Dear migrants and refugees! You have a special place in the heart of the Church, and you help her to enlarge her heart and to manifest her motherhood towards the entire human family. Do not lose your faith and hope! Let us think of the Holy Family during the flight in Egypt: Just as the maternal heart of the Blessed Virgin and the kind heart of Saint Joseph kept alive the confidence that God would never abandon them, so in you may the same hope in the Lord never be wanting. I entrust you to their protection and I cordially impart to all of you my Apostolic Blessing.

From the Vatican, 3 September 2014

SPANISH:

Pope Francis among the people of St. Peter’s Square in Rome, May 2013. Public domain image from Wiki Commons, photo by Edgar Jiménez.

Pope Francis among the people of St. Peter’s Square in Rome, May 2013.
Public domain image from Wiki Commons, photo by Edgar Jiménez.

Queridos hermanos y hermanas:
Jesús es «el evangelizador por excelencia y el Evangelio en persona» (Exhort. ap. Evangelii gaudium, 209). Su solicitud especial por los más vulnerables y excluidos nos invita a todos a cuidar a las personas más frágiles y a reconocer su rostro sufriente, sobre todo en las víctimas de las nuevas formas de pobreza y esclavitud. El Señor dice: «Tuve hambre y me disteis de comer, tuve sed y me disteis de beber, fui forastero y me hospedasteis, estuve desnudo y me vestisteis, enfermo y me visitasteis, en la cárcel y vinisteis a verme» (Mt 25,35-36). Misión de la Iglesia, peregrina en la tierra y madre de todos, es por tanto amar a Jesucristo, adorarlo y amarlo, especialmente en los más pobres y desamparados; entre éstos, están ciertamente los emigrantes y los refugiados, que intentan dejar atrás difíciles condiciones de vida y todo tipo de peligros. Por eso, el lema de la Jornada Mundial del Emigrante y del Refugiado de este año es: Una Iglesia sin fronteras, madre de todos.

En efecto, la Iglesia abre sus brazos para acoger a todos los pueblos, sin discriminaciones y sin límites, y para anunciar a todos que «Dios es amor» (1 Jn 4,8.16). Después de su muerte y resurrección, Jesús confió a sus discípulos la misión de ser sus testigos y de proclamar el Evangelio de la alegría y de la misericordia. Ellos, el día de Pentecostés, salieron del Cenáculo con valentía y entusiasmo; la fuerza del Espíritu Santo venció sus dudas y vacilaciones, e hizo que cada uno escuchase su anuncio en su propia lengua; así desde el comienzo, la Iglesia es madre con el corazón abierto al mundo entero, sin fronteras. Este mandato abarca una historia de dos milenios, pero ya desde los primeros siglos el anuncio misionero hizo visible la maternidad universal de la Iglesia, explicitada después en los escritos de los Padres y retomada por el Concilio Ecuménico Vaticano II. Los Padres conciliares hablaron de Ecclesia mater para explicar su naturaleza. Efectivamente, la Iglesia engendra hijos e hijas y los incorpora y «los abraza con amor y solicitud como suyos» (Const. dogm. sobre la Iglesia Lumen gentium, 14).

La Iglesia sin fronteras, madre de todos, extiende por el mundo la cultura de la acogida y de la solidaridad, según la cual nadie puede ser considerado inútil, fuera de lugar o descartable. Si vive realmente su maternidad, la comunidad cristiana alimenta, orienta e indica el camino, acompaña con paciencia, se hace cercana con la oración y con las obras de misericordia.

Todo esto adquiere hoy un significado especial. De hecho, en una época de tan vastas migraciones, un gran número de personas deja sus lugares de origen y emprende el arriesgado viaje de la esperanza, con el equipaje lleno de deseos y de temores, a la búsqueda de condiciones de vida más humanas. No es extraño, sin embargo, que estos movimientos migratorios susciten desconfianza y rechazo, también en las comunidades eclesiales, antes incluso de conocer las circunstancias de persecución o de miseria de las personas afectadas. Esos recelos y prejuicios se oponen al mandamiento bíblico de acoger con respeto y solidaridad al extranjero necesitado.

Por una parte, oímos en el sagrario de la conciencia la llamada a tocar la miseria humana y a poner en práctica el mandamiento del amor que Jesús nos dejó cuando se identificó con el extranjero, con quien sufre, con cuantos son víctimas inocentes de la violencia y la explotación. Por otra parte, sin embargo, a causa de la debilidad de nuestra naturaleza, “sentimos la tentación de ser cristianos manteniendo una prudente distancia de las llagas del Señor” (Exhort. ap. Evangelii gaudium, 270).

La fuerza de la fe, de la esperanza y de la caridad permite reducir las distancias que nos separan de los dramas humanos. Jesucristo espera siempre que lo reconozcamos en los emigrantes y en los desplazados, en los refugiados y en los exiliados, y asimismo nos llama a compartir nuestros recursos, y en ocasiones a renunciar a nuestro bienestar. Lo recordaba el Papa Pablo VI, diciendo que «los más favorecidos deben renunciar a algunos de sus derechos para poner con mayor liberalidad sus bienes al servicio de los demás» (Carta ap. Octogesima adveniens, 14 mayo 1971, 23).

Por lo demás, el carácter multicultural de las sociedades actuales invita a la Iglesia a asumir nuevos compromisos de solidaridad, de comunión y de evangelización. Los movimientos migratorios, de hecho, requieren profundizar y reforzar los valores necesarios para garantizar una convivencia armónica entre las personas y las culturas. Para ello no basta la simple tolerancia, que hace posible el respeto de la diversidad y da paso a diversas formas de solidaridad entre las personas de procedencias y culturas diferentes. Aquí se sitúa la vocación de la Iglesia a superar las fronteras y a favorecer «el paso de una actitud defensiva y recelosa, de desinterés o de marginación a una actitud que ponga como fundamento la “cultura del encuentro”, la única capaz de construir un mundo más justo y fraterno» (Mensaje para la Jornada Mundial del Emigrante y del Refugiado 2014).

Sin embargo, los movimientos migratorios han asumido tales dimensiones que sólo una colaboración sistemática y efectiva que implique a los Estados y a las Organizaciones internacionales puede regularlos eficazmente y hacerles frente. En efecto, las migraciones interpelan a todos, no sólo por las dimensiones del fenómeno, sino también «por los problemas sociales, económicos, políticos, culturales y religiosos que suscita, y por los dramáticos desafíos que plantea a las comunidades nacionales y a la comunidad internacional» (Benedicto XVI, Carta enc. Caritas in veritate, 29 junio 2009, 62).

En la agenda internacional tienen lugar frecuentes debates sobre las posibilidades, los métodos y las normativas para afrontar el fenómeno de las migraciones. Hay organismos e instituciones, en el ámbito internacional, nacional y local, que ponen su trabajo y sus energías al servicio de cuantos emigran en busca de una vida mejor. A pesar de sus generosos y laudables esfuerzos, es necesaria una acción más eficaz e incisiva, que se sirva de una red universal de colaboración, fundada en la protección de la dignidad y centralidad de la persona humana. De este modo, será más efectiva la lucha contra el tráfico vergonzoso y delictivo de seres humanos, contra la vulneración de los derechos fundamentales, contra cualquier forma de violencia, vejación y esclavitud. Trabajar juntos requiere reciprocidad y sinergia, disponibilidad y confianza, sabiendo que «ningún país puede afrontar por sí solo las dificultades unidas a este fenómeno que, siendo tan amplio, afecta en este momento a todos los continentes en el doble movimiento de inmigración y emigración» (Mensaje para la Jornada Mundial del Emigrante y del Refugiado 2014).

A la globalización del fenómeno migratorio hay que responder con la globalización de la caridad y de la cooperación, para que se humanicen las condiciones de los emigrantes. Al mismo tiempo, es necesario intensificar los esfuerzos para crear las condiciones adecuadas para garantizar una progresiva disminución de las razones que llevan a pueblos enteros a dejar su patria a causa de guerras y carestías, que a menudo se concatenan unas a otras.

A la solidaridad con los emigrantes y los refugiados es preciso añadir la voluntad y la creatividad necesarias para desarrollar mundialmente un orden económico-financiero más justo y equitativo, junto con un mayor compromiso por la paz, condición indispensable para un auténtico progreso.

Queridos emigrantes y refugiados, ocupáis un lugar especial en el corazón de la Iglesia, y la ayudáis a tener un corazón más grande para manifestar su maternidad con la entera familia humana. No perdáis la confianza ni la esperanza. Miremos a la Sagrada Familia exiliada en Egipto: así como en el corazón materno de la Virgen María y en el corazón solícito de san José se mantuvo la confianza en Dios que nunca nos abandona, que no os falte esta misma confianza en el Señor. Os encomiendo a su protección y os imparto de corazón la Bendición Apostólica.

Vaticano, 3 de septiembre de 2014

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The Art of the Camino

By: Roxane Ramos

An exhibit the Museum of International Folk Art in Santa Fe explores the migration experience, a cornerstone of human history.

Desde tepeyac a la gran manzana/From Tepeya to the Big Apple (detail), Catalina Delgado Trunk, Albuquerque 2002. Papeles picados in honor of the undocumented Mexican immigrants who lost their lives in 9/11. Photo by Roxane Ramos.

Desde tepeyac a la gran manzana/From Tepeya to the Big Apple (detail), Catalina Delgado Trunk, Albuquerque 2002. Papeles picados in honor of the undocumented Mexican immigrants who lost their lives in 9/11.
Photo by Roxane Ramos.

The gallery is small, but its name looms large: the Gallery of Conscience. It’s an experimental exhibition space, dedicated to folk art and social change, within Santa Fe’s renowned Museum of International Folk Art (MIFA). The current exhibition, on view through January 17, 2016, is entitled Between Two Worlds: Folk Artists Reflect on the Immigrant Experience, and it collects, in one room, a wide range of testimony in the form of art and interactive displays about the experiences of leaving one’s home, being left behind, and welcoming newcomers. In this participatory space, the artists, curators and visitors all have a say.

The exhibit is both educational and emotional. At the Kino Border Initiative’s fifth anniversary forum in January, Isabel Garcia, the director of the Pima County Legal Defender’s Office and co-chair of Derechos Humanos, pointed out the critical importance of learning about the history of migration, so pivotal to the development of civilization, agriculture, industry, economics, science and art, yet omitted from many school curricula. It’s easy to feel ourselves separate from this ever-present human phenomenon. But every one of us has a migration story in our personal or family stories, whether the nature of the migration was forced (as in the case of slavery), provoked (by violence or poverty in one’s homeland, for example), or voluntary (attending university in a foreign country and staying).

Retirantes/Retreatants, ca. 1991, Antonio Rodrigues, Pernambuco, Brazil. Photo by Roxane Ramos.

Retirantes/Retreatants, ca. 1991, Antonio Rodrigues, Pernambuco, Brazil.
Photo by Roxane Ramos.

The MIFA exhibition removes this false “us/them” division by engaging visitors with inquiries and interactive tasks. “If you had to leave your home, and could only bring what you could carry, what would it be?” asks one sign, posted above an array of everyday objects, from a water bottle to a cat carrier. People are invited to write down what they would bring, and at other installations, consider what makes them feel at home (“I can smell my grandpa’s cooking.” “I can take my shoes off.”), identify their countries of origin, or draw favorite foods on paper plates. “Immigration brings up strong feelings, both personal and political,” said Dr. Suzanne Seriff, director of the Gallery of Conscience. As visitors grapple with those issues and emotions, the common thread of movement and migration in our individual and collective histories becomes progressively more apparent, and the displays encourage people to remember or reflect on what it’s like to make a home in a new, unfamiliar, possibly unfriendly place.

Museum visitors are invited to identify the places they or their ancestors came from. Photo by Roxane Ramos.

Museum visitors are invited to identify the places they or their ancestors came from.
Photo by Roxane Ramos.

The exhibit includes handmade embroidery, carvings, paintings, drawings, and beadwork about immigrant journeys as well as a short documentary about the Native American experience of displacement, both historic and ongoing. A work of cut paper (papeles picados) by Catalina Delgado Trunk is particularly moving—Our Lady Of Guadalupe flanked by delicate roses with thorns and resplendent monarch butterflies, symbols of beauty, pain, growth, flight and transformation. It is dedicated to the undocumented Mexican migrants who worked and perished in the Twin Towers on 9/11. Pleasure and enchantment at the exquisite execution of the piece are replaced by shock and sorrow at the magnitude of loss that touched so many. The indelible image of Guadalupe combined with the fragile nature of the materials capture these conflicting sentiments perfectly.

The current debate about immigration reform in the U.S. and the increasing globalization of our world highlight the relevance and timeliness of MIFA’s exhibit. The artwork and visitor responses draw us into a dialogue about our shared experiences, how we define “home,” and how we locate it in the midst of all the movement and change. The exhibit’s title, Between Two Worlds, identifies a frequent conflict for many migrants. Where does one fit in? How can one strike a balance between embracing a new place and maintaining connections with the traditions and people left behind? Artist Catalina Delgado Trunk expresses it best in a quote posted by the gallery exit: “When I die, throw my ashes in the Rio Grande. The ashes will decide where I belong: Mexico or the United States.”

Exhibition signage encourages visitors to identify with migrants and the challenges they face. Photo by Roxane Ramos.

Exhibition signage encourages visitors to identify with migrants and the challenges they face.
Photo by Roxane Ramos.

To Learn More: For more information about the Museum of International Folk Art’s exhibit, Between Two Worlds: Folk Artists Reflect on the Immigrant Experience, see: http://www.internationalfolkart.org/exhibitions/betweentwoworlds.html

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Up Close: The People of the KBI

Armando Borja, KBI Board Member

Armando Borja, National Director of Jesuit Refugee Service/USA, has been a KBI board member from the beginning. Photo by Christian Fuchs.

Armando Borja, National Director of Jesuit Refugee Service/USA, has been a KBI board member from the beginning.
Photo by Christian Fuchs.

By: Roxane Ramos

Armando spends a lot of time on the road. As national director of Jesuit Refugee Service/USA, based in Washington, D.C., a big part of his job is looking for new projects to expand the organization’s service, accompaniment and advocacy for the displaced, undocumented and vulnerable among us. “JRS goes where the need is greatest, and helps to create the initial momentum to get things started,” says Armando. Back in 2008, the leadership of JRS/USA saw an opportunity to serve along the U.S.-Mexico border, and was interested in starting a project there. So that’s where Armando went.

With a JRS chaplaincy program already established in Florence, AZ to support migrants of all faiths held in the detention facility there, the next task was determining how to expand that accompaniment, and support the migrants throughout the deportation process. JRS/USA conducted a needs assessment with the California Province of the Society of Jesus, and opted to help launch the Kino Border Initiative in Ambos Nogales. Almost six years later, the KBI has served tens of thousands of migrants and educated thousands of visitors, workshop participants and policy makers about the reality of the border.

During those first months, Armando’s steady commitment and hands-on approach involved making frequent trips to Nogales, even at one point, renting a truck and filling it with desks, beds, and equipment to furnish the KBI office and shelter in Nogales, Sonora. He helped set up a financial system for the KBI, establish protocols for the shelter and volunteer program, and create a board of directors. That year, Armando spent Christmas with the migrants and the Missionary Sisters of the Eucharist who run the comedor and shelter. And as a KBI board member from the beginning, he continues to work on behalf of the KBI.

Armando’s interest in social justice and human rights started early. As a boy of six in Ecuador, he remembers peeking out the window as the police arrested his neighbors—students involved in community organizing—and dumped their books and belongings in the street. At the time, the country was in the throes of a military dictatorship, and the atmosphere of fear and tension was palpable.

The incident left a deep impression, that initial seed of conviction and future activism that subsequent experiences have only reinforced. Like so many children affected by immigration, Armando endured 14 years of family separation when his father migrated to New York. And as an adult working for one of the largest community education programs in upper Manhattan, Armando encountered hundreds of Dominican immigrants whose lives were completely reconfigured and sometimes overrun by immigration and relocation issues. Those five years “sealed the deal,” so to speak, and Armando counts Fr. René Dousdebes, S.J., founder and director of the program, among his mentors. From Fr. René and the immigrant community they served, he learned how accompaniment provides invaluable assistance to people going through destabilizing challenges or major life transitions—and importantly, how it is our responsibility as fellow humans to offer that supportive hand.

December 2008 at the comedor: Armando (with Sr. Engracia, left, and Fr. Sean, right) made frequent trips to Ambos Nogales to help the KBI get started.

December 2008 at the comedor: Armando (with Sr. Engracia, left, and Fr. Sean, right) made frequent trips to Ambos Nogales to help the KBI get started.

It’s a lesson Armando has lived by throughout his career. Since the mid-80s, when he first moved to the U.S., Armando has worked as a program officer for the United Nations, an emergency program coordinator with Catholic Relief Services in Honduras, a community planner in Washington, D.C., a high school teacher in D.C.’s inner city, and finally as the director of management and programs for JRS/USA, before becoming national director. Along the way, Armando has been both an educator and a student. An alumnus of Fordham University, he acquired master’s degrees in Political Management from George Washington University and in International Planning from the University of Virginia, and also completed his coursework toward a PhD in Environmental Design and Planning with a concentration in Organizational Development from Virginia Tech.

Even with its many rewards, Armando’s work can be formidable. “My biggest challenge is to make people in the United States care about the plight of refugees around the world,” he admits, particularly when a crisis is not front-page news. And there are some tradeoffs, such as the frequent travel that takes him away from his family—wife Alexandra Medina, program director for evaluation and assessment for the National Science Foundation, and their children, son Felipe, 17 who wants to be an engineer like his mom, and daughter Camile, 15, who plans to go into psychology. Still, one of their favorite joint activities is to get right back on a plane and travel together.

With so many worthy projects initiated and sponsored by JRS/USA throughout the U.S. and internationally, Armando considers the Kino Border Initiative one of the most noteworthy and gratifying. “The KBI’s bi-national programs for direct service, education and advocacy have become an important catalyst in the discussion of U.S.-Mexico border issues,” he explains. On a personal note, he adds, “It is a humbling experience to bear witness to an initiative that over the years has offered consolation for so many.”

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Research and Advocacy at the KBI

By: Roxane Ramos

One of the main ways the Kino Border Initiative works toward a more compassionate and practical immigration policy is by sponsoring research projects and advocating for migrants at the border.

One of the migrants at the KBI outreach center shares his story with a volunteer. Photo by Larry Hanelin.

One of the migrants at the KBI outreach center shares his story with a volunteer.
Photo by Larry Hanelin.

The migrants and their struggles are a critical part of life on the borderlands, and the KBI works to ensure the safety and well-being of all who come for food, shelter, medical attention or spiritual support. But how the reality of the border translates into numbers, trends, and statistics is also significant, helping to make a strong case for immigration reform to constituencies in the U.S. and Mexico, government agencies, legislators, policy makers, and the world at large. So in addition to direct aid and education, the KBI:

• Conducts an ongoing survey of men and women who gather at the outreach center (or comedor) and stay at the shelter.
• Invites academics and researchers who wish to explore immigration and border issues more closely.
• Collaborates with a range of partners in education, policy development, direct service, social justice and human rights.

The KBI collects information from the migrants who come to the outreach center. Photo by Larry Hanelin.

The KBI collects information from the migrants who come to the outreach center.
Photo by Larry Hanelin.

• Offers testimony at Congressional hearings to promote family unity and address issues of family separation.
Your continuing support allows the KBI to conduct this important part of its mission. To make a donation and contribute to this far-reaching work, go to: http://www.kinoborderinitiative.org/get-involved/donate/

Cell phones, generously provided by No More Deaths volunteers, are available at the KBI’s outreach center so that migrants can contact family members and government agencies. Photo by Larry Hanelin.

Cell phones, generously provided by No More Deaths volunteers, are available at the KBI’s outreach center so that migrants can contact family members and government agencies.
Photo by Larry Hanelin.

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Education at the KBI: Call to Action

By: Roxane Ramos

The Kino Border Initiative’s educational programming offers information and insights into the reality of the border as well as direct experience.

Education is embedded in everything the Kino Border Initiative does, and its programming reaches migrants, students, churches, immersion groups, legislators, and anyone interested in visiting the KBI in person or online. The KBI works to dispel commonly held myths about immigration, correct misinformation, and provide experiences, resources and data. By raising awareness about the reality of the border, the KBI promotes greater understanding about who the migrants are and why they cross.

At the KBI Outreach Center: Sister María Engracia Robles Robles, M.E., informs migrants of their rights, listens to their stories, and responds to their questions. Photo by Larry Hanelin

At the KBI Outreach Center: Sister María Engracia Robles Robles, M.E., informs migrants of their rights, listens to their stories, and responds to their questions.
Photo by Larry Hanelin

 

Learning from the Migrants: Father Pete Neeley, S.J. and St. Ignatius student Julia Tognotti, 17, speak with a recently deported migrant, Brian, also 17, about his experience traveling for two months from Honduras to reach the border.  Photo by Dave Tognotti.

Learning from the Migrants: Father Pete Neeley, S.J. and St. Ignatius student Julia Tognotti, 17, speak with a recently deported migrant, Brian, also 17, about his experience traveling for two months from Honduras to reach the border.
Photo by Dave Tognotti.

The KBI educates by:

• Instructing all migrants served at the Outreach Center (comedor) about their basic human rights so they know when their rights are being violated.
• Conducting border immersion experiences of 1–3 days, giving participants the opportunity to meet the migrants, hear their stories, and “walk in their footsteps,” at least for a little while, on hikes through the harsh desert terrain surrounding Nogales.
• Offering presentations and workshops on the migrant experience, the social and economic factors that impact immigration, and the need for effective and humane immigration reform.
• Maintaining a Facebook page with the latest information about immigration headlines and KBI activities.
• Compiling monthly newsletters with articles about the migrant experience, advocacy efforts, immigration policy, and recent developments.
• Helping to support the Kino Teens program, which educates young people about border issues, provides them with the chance to assist the migrants, and encourages them to share their experiences with other school and church groups.

On a KBI Immersion: Students from St. Ignatius College Prepatory in San Francisco ride the bus in Nogales, Sonora, the border fence behind them. Photo by Dave Tognotti.

On a KBI Immersion: Students from St. Ignatius College Prepatory in San Francisco ride the bus in Nogales, Sonora, the border fence behind them.
Photo by Dave Tognotti.

How You Can Help: Support the KBI in its educational efforts by participating in an immersion experience; by inviting the KBI to speak to your church, student group or local organization; or by making a donation. For more information, see: http://www.kinoborderinitiative.org/

 

 

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The Music of the Border

By: Roxane Ramos

This year’s first place winner of the UA Poetry Center’s Bilingual Corrido Contest recounts a moving migration story of aspiration, struggle, and love.

Daniela Ibarra first heard the story in 2009 when she was living in Sonora, Mexico for a year. An abuela (grandmother) in a dentist’s waiting room shared the trials of her grandson, left behind in Mexico, and his mother, seeking better fortunes in the United States with the expectation of reuniting soon. This is so often where poetic inspiration can be found—in everyday stories and struggles—and when Daniela’s AP Spanish teacher Alma Mejía challenged the students to write corridos (Mexican folk ballads) for submission to the University of Arizona Poetry Center’s annual contest, her mind turned to that 5-year-old memory, still fresh and, sadly, still relevant.

Since the early 1800s, corridos have captured the celebrations and sorrows of both grand historical events and intimate everyday life in poetry and song. In 36 short lines (7–10 syllables), these ballads have traditionally been written in Spanish about actual events, but today can be found in English as well and subjects are often fictional. Over the last two centuries, corridos have documented revolutions, personal tragedies, humorous anecdotes, social upheavals, miracles and regional pride. Today, the form is widely regarded as música de la frontera (border music), and remains a popular oral tradition.

When Daniela submitted her corrido, Margarita y Alfredo, this past spring, she was a high school senior at Amphitheater High School in Tucson, active in the Photography Club and MESA (Math Engineering Science Achievement), and a member of the National Honors Society; this fall, she is a UA freshman planning to major in engineering while continuing to write poetry and short stories, a long-time passion. Her interest in the border is the result of living so close to it, and that compassionate perspective comes through in her corrido. “I’ve known many people who struggled to cross the border, leaving family behind,” she explains. “I am fortunate to not have gone through that, but I understand the pain and sacrifice of people trying to give their families a better life, and how separation takes its toll.”

At the Poetry Center’s Award Ceremony: Daniela Ibarra, with her Amphitheater High School AP Spanish teacher Alma Mejía, shows off a framed copy of her prize-winning corrido. Photo by Vanessa Alvarez.

At the Poetry Center’s Award Ceremony: Daniela Ibarra, with her Amphitheater High School AP Spanish teacher Alma Mejía, shows off a framed copy of her prize-winning corrido.
Photo by Vanessa Alvarez.

Margarita y Alfredo
Por Daniela Ibarra

Esta es la última historia
Que cuenta la gente del pueblo
La historia de Margarita
Y de su hijito Alfredo
Gente de buen corazón
Pero muy poco de dinero

Se fue Margarita muy triste
Llorando sin consuelo
Pues dejaba a su hijito
Para irse al extranjero
Brindar un mejor futuro
Para él, sangre y cuero

Cuida muy bien a mi hijo
Madre mía, te lo ruego
Vendré pronto, muy pronto
Eso sí te lo prometo
Fue el adiós de una madre
En un sincero tormento

Los días se hicieron meses
Y los meses se hicieron años
Margarita no volvió
Como había acordado
A cambio Alfredo graduó
Y se convirtió en licenciado

La vida siguió adelante
Se encontraron nuevamente
Felices en la distancia
Madre e hijo festejaron
Felices, muy felices
Pero son perfectos extraños

Margarita and Alfredo
By Daniela Ibarra

This is the latest story
That they’re talking about in town
The story of Margarita
And Alfredo, her little son
People with good hearts
But little money to call their own

Margarita left so sadly
Crying without consolation
Because she was leaving her baby
To live in a foreign nation
To give him a brighter future
Was her strong determination

Take good care of my little boy
Dear mother, I implore you
I’ll come back soon, so soon
That is my promise for you
This was a mother’s goodbye
In true torment, I assure you

The days turned into months
And the months turned into years
Margarita never returned
As she had promised in tears
Alfredo graduated from college
Missing his mother’s cheers

Life continued onward
At last they reunited
Rejoicing in the distance
Mother and son celebrated
But now they are perfect strangers
In this moment long awaited

Translation by Wendy Burk

To Learn More: Now in its fifteenth year, the Bilingual Corrido Contest, sponsored by the UA’s world-renowned Poetry Center, is open to high school students throughout Arizona. This year’s contest was judged by author and UA Creative Writing alumni Matt Mendez. For information about Poetry Center events and programs, see: http://poetry.arizona.edu/

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The Young Ambassadors of the KBI

By: Roxane Ramos

The Kino Teens, a social justice group associated with the Kino Border Initiative, take what they learn about border issues on the road, locally and nationally.

For the teenagers who attend Lourdes Catholic School in Nogales, Arizona, the border is not some distant abstraction—it is their home. And the debate that surrounds immigration reform is not simply political rhetoric—it is part of their everyday lives. So the students at Lourdes took on the issue, and organized the first Kino Teens group with the help of Fr. Pete Neeley, S.J., of the Kino Border Initiative and Teresita Scully, campus minister and theology teacher at Lourdes, to learn more about the migrant experience and teach others.

Kino Teens from Lourdes Catholic School in Nogales, Arizona, take a break at a Border Days activity. Photo by Janet Marcotte.

             Kino Teens from Lourdes Catholic School in Nogales, Arizona, take a break at a Border Days activity.
Photo by Janet Marcotte.

The Kino Teens follow the example of Padre Kino, who was in his time a great defender of native peoples and their rights. Taking up that mantle, the Teens are friends and supporters of migrants through their volunteer work at the KBI Outreach Center (the comedor), educational activities within their community, fundraising efforts for the KBI, advocacy visits to local legislative offices, and presentations at schools and churches to share their experiences with other students. They seek to dispel the myths of migration—a central part of human history—addressing why people migrate, what they endure on their journeys, and what can be done to ease the situations they face. In so doing, they re-focus the debate on crucial matters of human dignity, social justice and our common bond.

Kino Teens from Brophy College Preparatory, in Phoenix, lend a hand at the Fourth Annual KBI Dinner. Photo by Johnny Lazoya.

Kino Teens from Brophy College Preparatory, in Phoenix, lend a hand at the Fourth Annual KBI Dinner.
Photo by Johnny Lazoya.

Last year, Kino Teens from Lourdes traveled to San Francisco with Fr. Pete where students from St. Ignatius College Preparatory hosted them, and to Washington, D.C., to join in the Ignatian Family Teach-In. In San Francisco, they participated in workshops with other high school students and offered a presentation entitled “Life on the Border for Hispanic Youth.” In Washington, they presented at the Teach-In, engaged in breakout and networking sessions, attended a rally on the Capitol lawn, and visited legislators’ offices to advocate on the issue of immigration reform. More recently, Kino Teens from Brophy College Preparatory supported the KBI by serving dinner to 220 guests at the Fourth Annual Kino Border Initiative Dinner, held at St. Francis Xavier School in Phoenix. The event raised more than $140,000.

Kino Teens Nicole Davison, Carolina Romero, and Carolina Siulok from Lourdes Catholic School in Nogales, Arizona travel to Washington, D.C. to present at the Ignatian Family Teach-In. Photo by Fr. Pete Neeley.

Kino Teens Nicole Davison, Carolina Romero, and Carolina Siulok from Lourdes Catholic School in Nogales, Arizona travel to Washington, D.C. to present at the Ignatian Family Teach-In.
Photo by Fr. Pete Neeley.

Each summer, Kino Teens from different schools gather for a 3-day immersion called Border Days. The students learn about the history of the U.S.–Mexico border, the challenges faced by the migrants, and the current issues surrounding immigration. Along the way, they have a lot of fun and make new friends who share their commitment to social justice. And so begins a life of connection and activism on behalf of those in need

Interest in this sort of experiential engagement for young people has grown over the years. Since 2009, when the KBI’s Kino Teens program was started at Lourdes, clubs have been set up at Brophy College Preparatory in Phoenix, Arizona, and St. Ignatius College Preparatory in San Francisco, California. There are 40–50 students currently participating in Kino Teens activities. They may start as apprentices in border issues and its politics, but like anyone who learns by doing, they have become ardent and articulate teachers, ambassadors and advocates.

To Learn More: Watch online videos about the Kino Teens and their work at: https://www.youtube.com/user/KinoTeensNogales And don’t miss the news coverage of Kino Teen Julia Tognotti’s clothing drive efforts; she attends St. Ignatius College Preparatory in San Francisco, and is shipping 14 boxes of clothing to Nogales this month: http://abc7news.com/news/local-teen-collects-clothes-to-help-immigrants/225663/

Brophy Kino Teens line up with Father Pete Neeley at the Fourth Annual KBI Dinner in Phoenix. Photo by Johnny Lazoya.

Brophy Kino Teens line up with Father Pete Neeley at the Fourth Annual KBI Dinner in Phoenix.
Photo by Johnny Lazoya.

 

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Up Close: The People of the KBI ~ Immersion Reflections from High School Students

By: Roxane Ramos

Immersion experiences are precisely what they sound like—on-site visits that place participants right where they can observe the realities of a situation firsthand. For the Kino Border Initiative, immersions are a way to convey the reality of the border through direct engagement. Visitors get to speak with migrants and hear their stories; they serve meals and sort clothes; they tour the streets of Nogales, Sonora, and hike the harsh desert outskirts, harmless enough with plenty of water, the proper footwear and nearby help if needed, but often perilous after a days- or weeks-long journey, when one is at the mercy of the elements and the often unscrupulous coyotes (paid guides) engaged by migrants.

Each year, the KBI hosts as many as 30 border immersions in Nogales, Sonora and southern Arizona, many for high school or college students. Back in April, students from Bellarmine College Preparatory, a Jesuit high school in San Jose, California, came to Nogales for five days on their spring break with their teachers, Chris Cozort and Joe Cussen. Already familiar with the KBI’s programs from his work with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps, Joe looks forward to facilitating the trip each year, and understands the life-altering impact an immersion can have on students because he has felt it himself. As he explains, “I have had such a profound experience working with and learning from the amazing people at the KBI and in the Nogales community.”

Students from Bellarmine College Preparatory pose by the border fence with Chris Boitano of the KBI (far left) and their teachers Joe Cussen (third from right) and Chris Cozort (far right). Bellarmine students from left to right are: Ashwin Mukund, Rudy Diaz, Matthew Kim, Ramon Garcia-Gomez, Tyler Edgerle, Emilio Flamenco, Nick Culine, David Dalton, Ryan Demo. Photo by Ryan Demo.

Students from Bellarmine College Preparatory pose by the border fence with Chris Boitano of the KBI (far left) and their teachers Joe Cussen (third from right) and Chris Cozort (far right). Bellarmine students from left to right are: Ashwin Mukund, Rudy Diaz, Matthew Kim, Ramon Garcia-Gomez, Tyler Edgerle, Emilio Flamenco, Nick Culine, David Dalton, Ryan Demo.
Photo by Ryan Demo.

The annual Bellarmine trip is part of an education steeped in the Ignation tradition of service to others and dedicated to the “development of the full person,” someone who is not only intellectually prepared to engage the world, but ready to do so with an open heart and mind. This well-rounded and compassionate approach is evident in the thoughtful writings from Bellarmine students Tyler Edgerle and Matthew Kim, both juniors at the time of their visit. The following excerpts are drawn from letters Tyler and Matthew wrote to Father Pete Neeley, S.J., the KBI’s assistant director of education and one of several staff members who conduct immersions in Nogales, Sonora. They demonstrate how personal experience and direct contact take Catholic social teachings from the page, pulpit or classroom out into the world.

Reflection by Tyler Edgerle

“Almost no one I’ve talked to since has an understanding of what is really going on…”

Tyler Edgerle, right, with classmate Nick Culine, helps prep for lunch at the KBI Outreach Center. Photo by Ryan Demo.

Tyler Edgerle, right, with classmate Nick Culine, helps prep for lunch at the KBI Outreach Center.
Photo by Ryan Demo.

When I first signed up for this trip, I didn’t know what to expect, and worried that the immigrants I would be meeting would not want my help, or that people at the Kino Border Initiative would try to force their “pro-illegal immigration” views on me. These fears became non-existent from the moment we arrived. Father Pete explained that we would be helping these people during a difficult part of their life, and we could decide what is right or wrong. Also, my experience at the comedor (the KBI Outreach Center) helped me realize that the migrants did not detest me for being wealthy, but were appreciative of my help. This left a really good first impression of what my trip would be like, and helped me be more open and understanding for the rest of the week.

One of the most inspiring moments for me was the walk in the desert. Once Father Pete pointed out the black bleach bottles that migrants use to carry water in, I started noticing them everywhere in the desert. Even though it wasn’t that hot when we went, I can’t even begin to imagine carrying those heavy jugs full of hot water. The layover camps that Chris brought us to also showed the reality of this issue. I think when I realized that migrants crossing into America actually stayed in this very spot, I began to understand that immigration is not a political issue, it is a people issue.

As I look back on the immersion trip, I realize that almost no one I’ve talked to since has an understanding of what is really going on at the border. I now feel strongly about this issue, but realize that no one seems to care, and those that do have the wrong ideas about what is really happening. I’ve told many people about my experience, hoping to open their eyes to the realities of immigration, but I would not have had this knowledge about the subject without the immersion experience to inform me.

A guiding thought I had during the trip was the Catholic Social Principle of supporting human rights. I realized that national politicians are not the only ones who treat migrants as if they have no human rights; some people here in California do as well. All in all, this trip has truly changed my outlook on immigration, and has inspired me to try to pay attention to the issue. Even though I cannot vote, and I cannot change lawmakers’ minds, I feel like I can do little things to help, such as donating to your organization. I cannot thank you enough for making my experience so memorable, and I hope that your work continues to change the lives of high school students like me, and the migrants you serve.

Reflection by Matthew Kim

“The simple act of greeting someone could lead to solidarity, love, and relationship…”

Matthew Kim and other Bellarmine students walk in the migrants’ footsteps on a hike through the desert near Nogales. Photo by Ryan Demo.

Matthew Kim and other Bellarmine students walk in the migrants’ footsteps on a hike through the desert near Nogales.
Photo by Ryan Demo.

When I first applied to attend the immersion trip, I did not have any experience with the Mexican-American border. I felt intimidated thinking I would have to meet immigrants who might be resentful or bitter, and I carried that resentment with me until my first encounters with deported immigrants in the comedor [the KBI Outreach Center]. After meeting these people, I was reminded of the way that prejudice and hate, unfortunately, originate from our fears of the unknown. My encounters with immigrants like Ever and Manuel showed how the simple act of greeting someone could lead to solidarity, love, and relationship.

An uplifting moment for me was seeing Ever volunteer to wash the dishes. When I saw others entering the comedor, I could see the dejection in their slumped shoulders and downcast eyes. But Ever was enthusiastic, and seeing how the marginalized and needy were willing to serve so eagerly helped me keep in touch with the tender, loving side of humanity that is often hidden. In a time of vulnerability, Ever reached out to serve his brothers and sisters despite sharing the same burden, and witnessing his generosity has inspired me to choose to serve, even when I am in need.

There were challenging moments, too. Although many migrants blessed me with smiles, some seemed resentful. Many of the children seemed to seek material comforts and blessings, and despite knowing that they rarely enjoyed the comforts I could access daily, I often judged them as shallow or ungrateful. However, this discomfort with the poor helped remind me of their humanity—they had the same faults that were responsible for the unjust system that forced poverty onto them. My discomfort gave way to a better understanding of migrants, the children, and myself. As Rev. Albert Nolan once stated, “[The poor and the marginalized] make mistakes, are sometimes selfish, sometimes lacking in commitment and dedication…[but] real solidarity begins when it is no longer a matter of we and they.” The people I met were imperfect at times, but ultimately, they were like me—human.

As I look back on my time at the border, I realize how much I have grown to accept the “others” of society, and am grateful for my time with the KBI for strengthening my devotion to my community. I pray that the KBI finds success in siding with the “other,” whether that success is found in new legislation or a better connection with the community. But ultimately, I pray that our immigration system is no longer a matter of American and Mexican, but a matter of all of us.

To Learn More: Interested in participating in an immersion experience? Typically, immersions last 1–3 days, and bring you right to the border to learn more about immigration issues firsthand. To get more information about arranging an immersion trip, see: http://www.kinoborderinitiative.org/programs/education/ Or contact the KBI at: info@kinoborderinitiative.org

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The Children at the Border: Advocating for Change

By: Roxane Ramos

The humanitarian crisis of thousands of undocumented and unaccompanied children at the border has prompted numerous responses from organizations throughout the country. Here, we print two letters—one from the Jesuit Conference and the other from the Sisters of Mercy. The letters outline the decades-long history of violence in Central America that has led to the atmosphere of danger and threat that exists today. And they provide disturbing facts about the reality of what children are facing in their countries of origin, and the urgent need for a comprehensive and compassionate response from policymakers in Washington.

The recipients of these letters—House Speaker John Boehner and President Obama—are both in positions to provide leadership and push for reform on the issue of immigration, and these letters urge them to do so. Speaker Boehner has refused to bring immigration legislation passed in the Senate to a House vote (Senate Bill 744: Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act), and now Congress has recessed for the August break. President Obama has overseen an era of increased criminalization of illegal immigration, and the number of undocumented migrants deported since he took office now exceeds 2 million (which includes both court-ordered removals and voluntary returns), more than under any previous administration. Please read on.

Letter to House Speaker Boehner from the Jesuit Conference, The Society of Jesus in the United States

July 29, 2014

Speaker John Boehner
1011 Longworth House Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20515

Dear Speaker Boehner,

I write to you as President of the Jesuit Conference of the United States, the organization that represents the Society of Jesus in the U.S., and I echo the message of our bishops and our Holy Father. I urge you to remember that amid the complications of policy and politics, we must be steadfast in our commitment to uphold the dignity of the human person and the sacredness of human life when considering policy solutions to address the increasing numbers of children fleeing harm in Central America.

Well before the 1989 assassination of six Jesuits, their housekeeper and her daughter by U.S.-trained Salvadoran military forces, the Jesuits in the United States were partnering with Jesuits and colleagues in Central America. Since that time, Jesuits in the U.S. have been committed to ensuring that U.S. policy does not exacerbate difficult realities facing poor, marginalized communities. Over the last several years, our office and Jesuit Refugee Service/USA have tracked with growing alarm the increase in forced displacement and targeted violence—perpetrated by gangs, organized crime and state actors—in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.

This is not a new crisis, nor is it primarily at our border. Rather, it has been escalating over the last decade in the Northern Triangle. For example, 90 children are murdered or disappeared in Honduras every month; this is the equivalent of eight children being executed in your Congressional district every thirty days.

The impact of this crisis has fallen most heavily on women and girls. From 2005 to 2012 there was a 346% increase in murders of women and girls in Honduras. Meanwhile El Salvador has the highest rate of homicides against women and girls in the world, and Guatemala ranks third on the same chart. Is it any wonder that young girls are leaving the region in record numbers, with a 140% increase in girls 12 and younger arriving unaccompanied at our border from the Northern Triangle this fiscal year?

The Jesuits of Central America see this reality daily: the elementary school teacher murdered when he tried to prevent gangs from forcibly recruiting his students; the young girl pulled from her home, offered as a birthday present to a gang leader and then raped by 16 men; lay colleagues of Jesuits assassinated and harassed by the police. Further, these three countries have little infrastructure and few services to care for women and girls victimized by violence or sexual exploitation; less than 5% of female homicides end in a conviction. The collapse of civil society is evident in besieged schools, hollowed-out neighborhoods, and tortured, often dismembered bodies of children as young as two displayed in streets and ditches.

In this sobering context, I am reminded of Psalm 82, in which God asks the magistrates of the day “how long will you judge unjustly and show partiality to the wicked?” God then exhorts these political leaders to “give justice to the weak and fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked” (Psalm 82: 3-4).

While this message needs to be heard among leaders in the Northern Triangle, it also calls out to be heard by U.S. leaders dealing with this humanitarian crisis. In particular, I ask for your full and dedicated commitment to the following three policy issues:

TVPRA: A change to the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008 (TVPRA), which would result in children having a one-shot chance to disclose their persecution to a Customs and Border Protection agent or officer, especially when some of them have been victimized by armed men in uniform, is inhumane and an insult to American values. Mr. Speaker, I am appalled by the suggestion that the U.S. should respond by cutting off access to safety for these children.

Due process: To meet Psalm 82’s standard, I ask you to protect the due process rights of these vulnerable children. Rather than rolling back the TVPRA, we should continue to ensure that traumatized and terrorized children have the time and opportunity they need to feel safe enough to share their experience. To echo the analysis of the National Association of Immigration Judges, this process must proceed at the speed of a child’s trust, not at the speed of political convenience. These children deserve an individualized process, a child welfare expert to evaluate their claim, and a legal advocate to help them navigate our complex judicial system.

Root causes: We cannot simply ignore this aspect of the problem. In order to address this crisis at its source, the United States must listen to people, among them the Jesuits in Central America, who intimately understand how we arrived at this tragic juncture. They, along with many others, have been calling on their governments to address impunity and corruption, improve judicial systems, expand educational access, strengthen—and in some cases build from scratch—child welfare services in the region, and support adequate return and reintegration programs to ensure that children who can safely remain in their home countries are able to do so. Our investments need to go here, not to corrupt or abusive security forces who themselves are often criminal.

I ask you, as a leader, a parent, and a Catholic, to uphold an American tradition of which we are all proud. We must welcome the refugee, the victim of trafficking, the child who has been abused or abandoned. Let us follow in the footsteps of Jesus when he said “Let the children come to me, and do not prevent them; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these” (Matthew 19:14).

Thank you for your consideration.

Sincerely,
Very Reverend Thomas H. Smolich, S.J. President, Jesuit Conference USA

 

The unaccompanied migrant children entering the U.S. have fled some of the most violent countries in the world for a chance at a safer, better life. Courtesy of Creative Commons.

The unaccompanied migrant children entering the U.S. have fled some of the most violent countries in the world for a chance at a safer, better life.
Courtesy of Creative Commons.

 

Letter to President Obama from the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas

July 4, 2014

President Barack Obama
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue

Washington, D.C. 20500

Dear Mr. President:

The Sisters of Mercy have worked tirelessly with your Administration to build support for immigration reform, and as the leadership team for our Institute, we appreciate your willingness to take executive action later this summer. But we are extremely troubled by your Administration’s response to the unprecedented numbers of women and children fleeing violence in Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala. Over the last four years the number of unaccompanied minors apprehended by the U.S. Border Patrol has skyrocketed by 700% for Guatemalans, 930% for El Salvadorians and 1300% for Hondurans. The vulnerable populations from these Northern Triangle countries are not only seeking refuge in the United States; the United Nations High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR) reports that asylum applications are up 712% since 2008 in Belize, Nicaragua, Panama, Costa Rica and Mexico. What we are experiencing is a regional humanitarian crisis. The questions we need to be asking ourselves are: what has contributed to this crisis, how might your Administration’s proposals actually further deepen the crisis, and what sustainable solutions can be put in place to address the root causes driving migration?

We have sisters in 12 countries, including Guatemala and Honduras. Through our service in these countries, we have witnessed the extreme violence and poverty that women and children face in their communities. The Northern Triangle countries have some of the highest homicide rates, with Honduras now ranking number one in the world. It must be recognized that in the Northern Triangle, a parent’s decision to keep a child at home is more dangerous than risking the journey to another country.

The causes of this massive exodus are rooted in U.S. economic and foreign policies in Central America that clearly are not effective in responding to the underlying issues. In order to resolve this humanitarian crisis, Mr. President, your Administration must develop a new approach to the region while ensuring that the immediate needs of these refugees are fully met.

After 20 years of the North American Free Trade Act (NAFTA) and 10 years of the Central American Free Trade Act (CAFTA), the evidence is clear that neo-liberal economic policies devastate weaker economies as workers are displaced, thus forcing many to migrate outside their countries to find work. In Mexico, due to NAFTA nearly 1.4 million corn farms went under as their markets were flooded with U.S. subsidized corn. Consequently, an estimated 600,000 undocumented immigrants risked the journey to the United States. Since CAFTA was enacted in 2006, migration from Central America experienced a similar upsurge. During the first year of CAFTA in El Salvador, 11,457 workers were displaced from their jobs and migration to the United States from El Salvador jumped from 507 per day to 740 per day. Currently, Mr. President, your Administration is withholding developmental aid to El Salvador due to a provision within CAFTA, thus advancing the interest of giant seed corporations, like Monsanto, over the food security needs of the El Salvadorian people. The U.S. needs a new approach to trade, one that values people, culture, and the right of countries’ sovereignty over corporate interest.

In terms of U.S. foreign policy, it would be disastrous, particularly in Honduras and Guatemala, to send more money to a militarized “war on drugs” or to security forces that are corrupt and have substantial allegations of human rights violations. The U.S. State Department cites significant human rights violations in Guatemala and Honduras that include both military and police units committing unlawful killing, kidnappings, assault, rape, extortion and corruption. Since 2008, your Administration has invested hundreds of millions into the Central American Regional Security Initiative (CARSI), with 64% of the funds for enforcement and counter-narcotics, and the situation in the region has only gotten worse. We reject the notion that additional resources for “community policing and law enforcement,” as stated in your letter to Congress, will strengthen citizen security in the region.

The escalation of violence and the stranglehold of narco-traffickers are largely bi-products of a failing economy and corrupt governments. Nowhere is this more apparent than in Honduras. In June of 2009, the Honduran military, which receives substantial training and support from the U.S., overthrew the democratically elected President because of his anti-poverty initiatives. After a brief suspension of aid, Mr. President, your Administration renewed funding and support for the post-coup Honduran government. The government your Administration currently supports in Honduras is implicated in killings and threats to human rights defenders, labor leaders, journalists, indigenous and peasant leaders who are defending the rights to their land. Impunity reigns and increasingly military police are being deployed throughout the country. Since the coup in 2009, the political instability in Honduras led to the homicide rate increasing from 60 to 93 per 100,000, making the country the most dangerous place to live outside of a war zone. In some cities, such as San Pedro Sula, the homicide rate is 180 per 100,000, 11 times the homicide rate of your home city of Chicago. Mr. President, your Administration holds some responsibility for the current state of Honduras. Rather than send more money for security forces involved in CARSI, these funds should be suspended until impunity is seriously addressed. Also in order to prevent a similar catastrophe, your Administration should immediately end the training of Latin American militaries at the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC). The Cold War is over and we need to stop training and equipping foreign militaries that carry out coups and repress democratic freedoms in their countries.

It will take time for a new foreign policy approach in Central America to alleviate the root causes of this tragedy. Meanwhile, the U.S. needs to come to terms with the fact that more women and children will likely come to our borders. Mr. President, your Administration must uphold the high human rights standard that the U.S. demands of other countries. We are outraged by the announcement to renew the policy of family detention and efforts to expedite deportations of a vulnerable population back to life- threatening situations. A policy of deterrence will not dissuade people seeking refuge from untenable living situations but instead perpetuates their suffering once in the United States. As little as 5 years ago, the inexplicable treatment of families in the T. Don Hutto detention facilities was a national embarrassment. Thankfully, Mr. President, your Administration closed the facility, ending its legacy of inhumane treatment of women and children. There is no guarantee that this renewed effort to incarcerate mothers with their children will not have the same outcome, including children living in locked cells with only an open-air toilet accessible and guards’ threats of separating mothers from their children as a disciplinary tactic.

Instead of family detention, we call on you to strengthen alternatives to detention programs, which are more cost effective and humane. We are thankful for the collaboration between FEMA and ORR and the faith-based agencies. The Sisters of Mercy and many of our faith partners are working under the guidance of these groups to mobilize our communities to provide housing facilities and services.

The Sisters of Mercy of the Americas’ desire for another approach resonates with the teachings of Pope Francis. When addressing a plenary on the Pastoral Care of Migrants, the Pope asked “leaders and legislators and the entire international community above all to confront the reality of those who have been displaced by force, with effective projects and new approaches in order to protect their dignity, to improve the quality of their life and to face the challenges that are emerging from modern forms of persecution, oppression and slavery.” Our Sisters and co-workers will continue to respond to the needs of women and children in the Northern Triangle and the refugees that seek safe haven in the United States. We look forward to working with your Administration to find a new approach that will uphold the human dignity of this vulnerable population.

Sincerely,
Institute Leadership Team of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas

Their cheerful disposition belies a disturbing fact—children from Central America must traverse the length of Mexico (close to 2,000 miles), risking injury, among other dangers, as they jump on trains and ride atop the cars in the hope of reaching family members in the U.S. Courtesy of Repositorio Peninsula.

Their cheerful disposition belies a disturbing fact—children from Central America must traverse the length of Mexico (close to 2,000 miles), risking injury, among other dangers, as they jump on trains and ride atop the cars in the hope of reaching family members in the U.S.
Courtesy of Repositorio Peninsula.

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Children at the Border: Next Steps

By: Roxane Ramos

More than 57,000 unaccompanied migrant children have crossed the U.S.–Mexico border since October. The initial crisis for the U.S. government and border authorities was one of sheltering them and providing for their basic needs. Now that most of the children have been placed with relatives and await immigration hearings, the more ongoing challenge is addressing the reasons they have migrated, and determining who may have a right to stay in the U.S. based on refugee status or humanitarian grounds.

Most of the children are from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala and have traveled the length of Mexico, fleeing heightened gang violence and threats to their lives. The journey also exposes them to numerous dangers—kidnapping, robbery, extortion, and sex trafficking. U.S. law requires that they be interviewed within 48 hours of arrival, and with the case load hitting record numbers, accelerated screenings have been common. While this can be seen as a form of greater efficiency, speeding up the process comes with a human cost. The children have often experienced trauma and arrive disoriented and fearful. They do not trust the border patrol agents or their interviewers, and want only to reunite with their families. It is common for them to withhold information about crimes and abuses committed against them or that they have witnessed. Moreover, the screeners are not trained in the very specialized skill of interviewing children. And so the authorities fail to discover the very facts that would support a legitimate claim to asylum—abuse, abandonment, crimes and threats to their lives.

The children escaping the violence of their homelands have both a Consitutional and human right to have all claims to refugee status considered. Courtesy of Creative Commons.

The children escaping the violence of their homelands have both a Consitutional and human right to have all claims to refugee status considered.
Courtesy of Creative Commons.

In the immigration hearing process that eventually follows, minors are eligible for special juvenile status if they have been abused or abandoned by their family. They can seek asylum if they have suffered life-threatening persecution in their home countries. Or they can apply for visas as victims or witnesses of serious crimes. When these conditions are not captured in the initial screenings of the children, it becomes harder to prove the validity of these claims later on.

The most recent response of the Obama administration is a proposal to set up a processing center in Honduras, to screen children for refugee status or humanitarian parole (a temporary designation based on emergency humanitarian grounds) before they undertake the long and dangerous trek north. There are precedents for this sort of program, and instituting it recognizes the violence in Honduras as a humanitarian emergency, on par with those in Haiti and Vietnam. If successful, this pilot program would be replicated in Guatemala and El Salvador.

The proposal is still in the evaluation stages, with many questions to answer and vocal proponents on both sides. Would such a program be instituted via executive order or congressional approval? Would the United States or the United Nations (who handles such programs in other countries) oversee it? How much would the program cost? How many children could be admitted each year? And—a thorny legal point—does the definition of “refugee” apply to these children? (Refugees are legally defined as “people fleeing their country of origin based on fears of persecution by reason of race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group.” Immigration advocates assert that the “social group” category applies in these cases.)

These questions address the administrative, legal and economic aspects of the crisis, and all have sparked ongoing debate. But the underlying human questions are both deeper and more straightforward: How can we save these children who are in desperate need? Can we look away as they are threatened, exploited, sold, raped and murdered? Can we simply acknowledge the critical importance of reuniting children with their mothers and fathers in a safer place, where they can be loved and protected?

By all accounts, the hearings for the children who have entered the U.S. this past year will overwhelm our immigration court system. The fear is that many of these children will be fast-tracked right back to their countries which could put their lives in danger and not allow for adequate consideration of their individual circumstances and potential claims to asylum. It is critical that in the rush to be efficient or to make this problem “go away,” that these children receive what the Constitution grants everyone within the U.S.—a right to legal counsel, a fair hearing, and basic due process.

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