2019 was a year of celebration, growth, and struggle, both locally as well as nationally and internationally. Here, we highlight the central stories that defined 2019 at the Kino Border Initiative and the border.
- The misleadingly titled “Migrant Protection Protocols,” announced in December 2018, were first put into practice on January 25, 2019 in the San Diego area. The policy expanded dramatically over the course of the year, both geographically and numerically, and by the end of 2019, nearly 60,000 asylum-seekers had been returned to Mexico to await their asylum cases in U.S. courts.
- The U.S. government shut down for 35 days due to an impasse about President Trump’s desired $5.7 billion funding for a border wall. It reopened on January 25.
- Donations to KBI in 2018, which exceeded $1.5 million, allowed us to begin the year with the capacity to provide more meals and shelter, offer more educational programming, advocate for humane immigration policy, and plan for future needs on the border.
- Alex Miller was hired as the KBI-Florence Project Legal Fellow, working with people in the comedor and in detention centers. Alex brings years of legal experience in New York, Thailand, and Mozambique. In 2019, she represented 11 people on 17 matters.
- The annual Walking in Mercy event for high school students was held at St. Augustine High School in Tucson, and was attended by a hundred students and teachers from six area schools, who gathered for workshops, prayer, and advocacy. Tucson Bishop Edward Weisenburger presided at the closing Mass.
- The Ninth Annual KBI Dinner was held at Brophy College Preparatory in Phoenix on Saturday, March 9, and drew 440 supporters. The event raised over $260,000 for KBI programming, humanitarian aid, and construction of the new migrant aid center. The Pope Francis award was given to the Missionary Sisters of the Eucharist honoring their years of compassion and dedication to migrants and the broader KBI community.
- On March 2, our partners at the Ignatian Solidarity Network hosted the first annual Virtual Ignatian Family Teach-In for Justice. The conference focused on migration issues, at the border and throughout the U.S. KBI’s Fr. Pete Neeley delivered the keynote address.
- Mexico emerged as an ally in the Trump administration’s efforts to curtail asylum. The Mexican government agreed to accept people who had been returned under MPP, and also blocked ports of entry into the U.S. to prevent people from seeking asylum. This trend was significantly exacerbated throughout 2019.
- Lent and Holy Week were observed in the Comedor, and Director of Mexico Programs Father Samuel Lozano de los Santos, S.J. celebrated the annual Easter mass alongside many migrant families and individuals.
- By May, there were at least seven known deaths of children in U.S. immigration custody. The first death of a child was reported in December, and in the six months that followed, at least six other children died in custody. This followed a decade during which not a single child was known to have died in immigration custody.
- At their commencement exercises on May 24, the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, MA, awarded an honorary degree to Father Sean Carroll, S.J., for his work with KBI.
- From June 22-27, 13 high school students from eight schools convened at KBI for our fourth annual Leadership Days. This experience offered high school students with a demonstrated commitment to justice the opportunity to expand their advocacy and leadership skills through workshops, conversations with migrants, student-led presentations, and other activities.
- No More Deaths volunteer Scott Warren was on trial for providing humanitarian aid to migrants in the dangerous desert near Ajo, Arizona. After a weeklong trial and days of deliberation, the jury was ultimately hung and Scott was scheduled for a retrial.
- Tracey Horan, S.P, was hired as the Education Coordinator at KBI. She moved to Nogales from Indiana, where she had spent years working as a community organizer.
- Overcrowding of people in immigration detention centers in the El Paso and Rio Grande Valley region of the border was exposed, revealing the dangerous and inhumane conditions where migrants—including children and infants—were held at the border. Many people were detained for extended periods of time and were not given the opportunity to bathe or change clothes. Additionally, nutrition was insufficient, and the overcrowding was so severe that people were held in standing-room only cells.
- On July 18, hundreds of Catholics gathered on Capitol Hill to protest child separation and family separation. The action included a press conference, prayer, and march, after which 70 people were arrested.
- The Ignatian Justice Summit on Immigration was held at John Carroll University in Ohio from July 23-26, and brought together student advocates to educate them about critical issues, create an advocacy network, and coordinate actions plans. Director of Education and Advocacy Joanna Williams gave presentations on border realities and advocacy strategies.
- Lizzie Williams joined us as the KBI volunteer coordinator. Lizzie came after several years working with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps in Nicaragua and with immigrant communities in New Orleans.
- Maribel Lara Hérnandez, M.E., moved to minister with the Tarahumara community in Chihuahua after three years of service as volunteer coordinator with KBI.
- Several Arizona chapters of the Kino Teens participated in a back-to-school retreat in St. David, Arizona on August 23-24 to strategize effective organizing and actions for the school year. Lourdes Catholic School in Nogales provided essential support, and KBI staff Sr. Tracey Horan and Fr. Pete Neeley attended and facilitated.
- Over 20 people were killed at a Wal-Mart in El Paso, Texas on August 3rd. The killings were racially motivated, and the person who committed this terrible act of violence chose the location specifically because of its location near Mexico and the frequency with which Mexicans and Mexican-Americans shopped there.
- Josefina (Pina) Bejarano, M.E., began work as the Casa Nazareth women and children’s shelter coordinator. She took her first vows earlier in the summer, and brings years of experience working as an engineer and accompanying migrant communities in Mexico prior to her arrival here.
- Alicia Guevara Perez, M.E., departed KBI after nearly six years, many of which she spent as coordinator of the Casa Nazareth women’s shelter. She is now accompanying indigenous communities in Oaxaca. We are deeply grateful for her years of service and love.
- In tandem with the World Day of Migrants and Refugees on September 29, Pope Francis unveiled a monument entitled “Angels Unaware,” which pays homage to migrants and refugees in St. Peter’s Square. The pope wanted the statue in the square “so that all will be reminded of the evangelical challenge of hospitality.”
- Alongside other Jesuit organizations and schools, KBI took part in the Jesuit Day of Action on Thursday, October 10. KBI staff Joanna Williams and Sr. Tracey Horan participated along with over 100 others in front of Senator Martha McSally’s office. The day of action coincided with the meeting of Jesuit provincials with then-Acting Secretary of Homeland Security, Kevin McAleenan, to incorporate apostolic preferences in border and immigration policy.
- KBI worked to advocate for over a dozen Mexican families in the early fall who were quickly deported to Mexico, despite expressing or wanting to express a fear of return after being apprehended by Border Patrol. In several instances, their claims were blatantly disregarded or mocked by Border Patrol agents.
- On October 29, hundreds of migrants, staff, and volunteers marched through the streets of downtown Nogales, Sonora, to bring attention to the need to care for the environment. Many children had participated in a months-long educational project led by Sr. María Engracia Robles Robles, M.E., to teach them about the importance of recycling. The march was the culmination of this effort.
- On November 8th, students and staff from four Arizona schools gathered at Lourdes Catholic School in Nogales to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the Kino Teens. KBI staff Joanna Williams, Sr. Tracey Horan, Fr. Pete Neeley, Javier Fierro, and Fr. Sean Carroll attended the celebration.
- On November 22, the Remain in Mexico policy was announced in Arizona. Asylum-seekers who sought asylum in Arizona could now be sent back to Juárez, Mexico to await their asylum hearing. The southern Arizona community joined together to protest this development. Bishop Edward Weisenburger and the Tucson City Council passed resolutions and released letters strongly opposing the arrival of MPP in our region.
- Scott Warren, the No More Deaths volunteer who was on trial in the summer of 2019 for providing humanitarian aid to migrants, was retried in November. This time, the jury unanimously found him not guilty after less than one hour of deliberation.
- On December 14, KBI and Diocese without Borders hosted the largest-ever Binational Posada, with over 300 migrants, staff, volunteers, and community members in attendance. The posada ended with a meal at the new migrant aid center.
- Ricardo Greeley, S.J., began work at KBI in December. He brings years of experience working with indigenous communities and practicing permaculture in southern Mexico as well as accompanying immigrant communities in North Carolina.
- At the end of 2019, we had served a total of 131,715 meals; sheltered 129 women and 167 children at the shelter; and provided first aid to 4,059 people. Our busiest months were March and November. We are profoundly humbled and grateful to the staff, volunteers, and communities on both sides of the border that are so essential to ensuring that this work happens every day.
- We mourn the passing of several members of the KBI family during 2019, including Paul Allen, who alongside his wife Billie Greenwood was a faithful volunteer for three months every winter, and Armando Santos Lopez, who worked for years as the KBI doorman and leaves behind his wife and three children in Nogales, Sonora. Julio Cesar Guerrero was a longtime volunteer who passed away last June.