A humane, just, and workable migration system is not going to pop up out of the ground one day. Instead, it will take a vast coalition of people unified in their vision that people deserve the chance to migrate, or not to migrate, with dignity. Change will only come when hearts and minds have shifted, and when people are ready to take action for better policy and accompaniment of people on the move.
It goes without saying that creating this coalition will take time. It takes committed people and organizations sharing their stories, offering up new information and narratives, and making connections between migrants and people who have never migrated. In short: building the political will to uphold the dignity of migrants takes a lot of time, education, relationship, and care. That’s one of the reasons our Education and Advocacy team exists.
Today, we want to focus on a few of the ways our team is strategically knitting together accompaniment, education, and advocacy in the US.
Education, Advocacy, and Kino’s theory of change
Advocacy for better policy is an expression of our love for our siblings on the move. As we listen to stories of abuse at the hands of officials, of months-long waits to start the asylum process, of deaths and delirium in the desert, we are moved to act. If we want to see a world where people can migrate with dignity, we must change the current policies that make the reality so painful.
Neither policy change, cultural change, or systemic change can happen overnight. In our current system, policy shifts when public opinion, coordinated pressure from organizations, and the interests of political officials align. If we want decision-makers to create better migration policies, the fact of the matter is that they must view doing so as advancing their own self-interests. That means we must activate constituents. This activation comes through the long, hard work of helping people and institutions see the current reality, envision a better one, and feel motivated to take steps to enact that better future. Building the will for change comes down to faithfully changing hearts and minds at multiple levels.
At Kino, we do this primarily from a place of rootedness. We are rooted in our Catholic faith, rooted in both sides of the border, and rooted in relationships with people on the move and the broader Body of Christ. Thanks to these deep roots, we can create spaces of encounter between people who have migrated and those who have not. Even better, we can forge those connections based on the common values we share as members of Christ’s body. Human connections like these, combined with direct education and equipping, are the seeds of change.
These connections are essential, because it will take a broad coalition of people to change both policy and the current reality that migrants face. Kino cannot create migration with dignity alone. Neither can one parish, nor one school, nor one decision-maker or official. But by acting in concert, each entity and person participating within their gifts, we can demonstrate a unified force that desires migration with dignity. Together, we can co-create a new reality while showing lawmakers that it is in their own political self-interest to advance humane, just, and workable immigration policy.
Rooted in Relationship
Our advocacy starts with listening. In the Migrant Outreach Center, we listen to the stories of people on the move. Aside from building trust and upholding human dignity, listening closely to people on the move tells us the true effect of current migration policies.
For example, Adrian* is a father displaced in Nogales, Sonora with his family, where they have been waiting five months for a CBP One appointment. He shared his thoughts with Kino Border Initiative: “truthfully if we don’t get an appointment, I don’t know…we’re losing hope. I think we would have to look for a way to cross, even if it’s through mountains, risking our lives, because we cannot return to our place of origin…truthfully there isn’t an alternative.”
Too often, policy conversations or political discussions happen divorced from the effects they have on real people. It is easy to discuss ad nauseum the pros and cons of a policy idea like forcing people to secure an asylum appointment via app. But Adrian has lived it. We know that trying to access the asylum process via app doesn’t work, because people like Adrian have told us directly.
Hearing stories like Adrian’s leave a deep impact. And Kino hears them every day. That’s why KBI is uniquely placed to ensure more people can hear stories like his. As a Catholic organization, we are deeply embedded in networks across the country with access to institutions like schools, parishes, and religious orders. Many of the faithful people who participate in Catholic life may worry about talking about migration policy. It might seem “too political” or not central to the gospel or teachings of the Church. Yet thanks to the trusting relationship Kino already has with many institutions like these, many people accept the invitation to learn more when it comes from KBI. The education team traverses the country to meet people where they are, offering presentations and inviting people to visit or participate in an immersion.
“It allows us to reach people who might not have other people who they trust and can learn from about migration,” says Executive Director Joanna Williams.
Changing Hearts and Minds
Holding space for people to come and learn from people they trust, to hear migrants firsthand, has a profound impact.
Sister Eileen McKenzie, a Franciscan sister who recently joined the KBI Team as the Mobilization Coordinator, talked about how her own stories from Kino impacted other sisters in her order. Eileen participated in Kino’s special program Catholic Sisters Walking with Migrants (CSWM), where she served for months in the migrant outreach center. When she returned to Wisconsin, her fellow sisters were stunned when she described how many women and children she served in Nogales.
“Most of them said that when they thought of a person in migration, the first image that popped into their head was a young single man looking for a job. When I told them that Kino’s shelter is for families, and that most of the people were fleeing violence, they were so surprised. They had no idea,” Eileen said.
KBI has seen a similar shift in attitudes occur during presentations at schools. A few months ago, KBI staff conducted a pre and post survey of students’ attitudes at Belen Jesuit Preparatory School in Florida, an institution with whom Kino has a long-standing partnership. Initially, many of the students were relatively skeptical or indifferent about pushing for a more humane, just, and workable migration policy.
After hearing the presentation, which included a firsthand account from a person who had migrated, and having conversations with KBI staff, 86.4% of students said that at least one of their assumptions about migrants had been challenged. The data shows that human connection was key: 74.8% of students left wanting to learn more about people who migrate, and nearly half said that hearing from a person who had migrated was the most helpful part of the conversation. And 40.2% said they wanted to take action in solidarity with migrants. We have seen similar attitude shifts in institutions like Brophy College Preparatory and among teenagers who have participated in Kino’s educational opportunities.
When people have the opportunity to hear about migration policy from someone they trust or to connect with someone who has migrated, they are more open to learning and advancing migration with dignity. Even better – Kino is able to reach many people who might not otherwise get the chance. One member of Kino Teens said that participating in Kino activities had “opened up a world of realities that he had never been exposed to before” in his home state of Illinois. He felt empowered to formulate his own opinions based on the new information that Kino gave him.
Blending Accompaniment, Education, and Advocacy
By focusing on nurturing trusting relationships with migrants and other institutions, KBI is able to reach people who might not otherwise prioritize learning about migration. Once people learn and make that human connection, they are more keen to take action.
Encouraging action is key. Every person and institution has unique gifts and a role to play in changing the current policy landscape and lived reality of people on the move. In order to sustain this long work, people must be knitted together in a community of collective care and accompaniment. That’s why Kino’s has launched a renewed focus on accompanying migrants in the US and ensuring they connect with other friends of Kino: individuals, parishes, schools, religious orders, and more.
Once Esmeralda was able to cross the border, she flew to a family that had agreed to sponsor hers. The sponsor was found through a connection with Kino. The sponsors assisted Esmeralda in enrolling her children in school, finding playgrounds, navigating the health system, and transportation. With this support, Esmeralda was also able to continue the advocacy work she had begun in Nogales, Mexico.
“My mission hasn’t ended,” she told KBI staff. She visited a congressional office alongside Sister Tracey Horan to press for better policies. Because of their firsthand experience, migrants make strategic and effective advocates for better policy.
In 2024, KBI will build on this momentum. One initiative will empower and train 5-10 people who have migrated in advocacy and leadership, connecting them with nearby partner educational institutions to amplify their voice. This model has already been piloted with great success.
Last year, migrants like Esmeralda presented to 8 institutions, reaching 2,000 people. KBI staff have identified key hubs throughout the US where migrants who know Kino and institutions who partner with Kino both reside. With everyone in one place, Kino merely needs to facilitate the connection and equip people to accompany and stand in solidarity with one another. KBI aims to organize or support the development of these regional summits throughout the US.
One of the goals here is to blend advocacy and accompaniment. When Sister Eileen’s fellow sisters learned that most asylum-seekers are now women and children, they immediately began brainstorming ways to accompany migrants.
“I told them that education was a huge need among migrant children, and my sisters realized that many of them used to be educators and had access to education facilities that could be used to serve migrants. Then, they started talking about how there must be people who had migrated nearby, and that they needed to spend more time in the community getting to know them,” she remembers.
Simply by sharing her stories, Sister Eileen managed to activate members of her religious order to find ways to accompany migrants and advocate for their educational opportunities in the US. In 2024, KBI wants to nurture these seeds by equipping and supporting Sisters who return to their communities. Kino will connect at least three CSWM alumni with migrants who have traveled through Kino and are now in the US so that they can jointly present at the sisters’ motherhouses and other venues in order to build empathy and solidarity for migrants.
Sister Eileen explained, “We have families who have migrated near our mother houses. Once we have connections, we can give migrants a platform by inviting them to come to mother houses and share their stories.” A Mother House is the main home for a group of members from the same religious order.
The possibilities extend far beyond religious orders. “People trust Sisters. And each Sister has a connection to a group of people who have the privilege of voting, speaking to their congresspeople, and who have the ability to accompany migrants,” Sister Eileen noted. KBI will also hold monthly meetings with CSWM participants to ensure that the sisters can coordinate their networking, education, advocacy, and accompaniment efforts to maximize their effectiveness.
The process that CSWM will use to build a coalition is a cyclical one that drives much of Kino’s education and advocacy work. KBI accompanies a person on the move, staying connected after they cross into the US. KBI connects these migrants with one another and with individuals and partner institutions like parishes, schools, and religious orders. Then, the receiving community accompanies people who have migrated, continuing to learn from them and growing in support for their advocacy and vision of change.
“We quickly learned that most people wanted to be with our migrant brothers and sisters – to accompany them and get to know them. We saw our grandparents, parents, and siblings in them. We wanted each person to feel welcome and safe here,” says Margie Legowski, a member of a church that participated in Kino’s educational experiences for years before launching their own ministry to accompany migrants.
Through relationships, an entire community can both accompany and advocate for migrants, who lead the vision of what migration with dignity should look like.
Join the work
This article represents just a tiny slice of how KBI is working broadly to build a coalition of people who are accompanying migrants, desiring to see change, and ready to take action for solidarity. By focusing on relationships, this approach can change the lived reality for people in the US who have migrated, even as we continue to press for policy change.
You can be a part of it. One way to get started is to explore opportunities to get involved either volunteering with Kino or to engage our Education team. Sharing your stories and introducing others to a new perspective is powerful!
As you take a step forward, staying rooted in relationship and humanity is key. At Kino, our focus on building a community of collective care is the cornerstone of our contribution to the education and advocacy space. A lot of groups that do great educational experiences. A lot of groups effectively advocate for humane and just policy. What’s different about our approach is that we are deeply rooted in relationships and encounters with both migrants and allied communities (like schools, parishes, sisters). This unique intersection, rooted in our binational identity and Catholic faith, allows us to reach people and institutions who might otherwise shy away from engaging with the realities of migration. By focusing on relationships with people on the move and in your community, you can be a unique point of connection and encounter, too!
Your gifts and strengths matter and can advance migration with dignity. Perhaps you have heard a compelling story at KBI and can share that through an op ed or a presentation, perhaps you can animate a group to learn more or take action to connect with people who have migrated. Maybe you want to do a Bible study that encourages people to understand how Migration with Dignity fits into God’s work in the world. Your voice and your actions matter.
Communal, wide-ranging efforts from people like you make a lasting, sustainable impact on policy, because it affects multiple levels of what policy change requires like:
- Offering compelling stories
- Organizing grassroots movements
- Facilitating contact and credibility with decision makers
All without having to overstretch ourselves or sacrifice your own unique calling. By activating a broad network of people who are all knitted together in trust, together we can rely on every person and every other great organization to do their work effectively. Each part of the body can do its role.
And as we do come together to build this community of collective care and accompaniment, we get a foretaste of what migration with dignity can look like.
If you want to go deeper or understand how you might be a part of this work, email firstname.lastname@example.org today to start a conversation.