In Kino’s 15-year tenure, the dynamics of migration have dramatically changed. At our inception, we primarily received people who had been recently deported. Most had few legal options in the US. While we still serve these people, the reality is that over recent years, the number of people who are traveling to the US to seek safety for their lives has skyrocketed. Now, many of the people we accompany at Kino are fleeing violence or seeking asylum. Unlike the people who we accompanied in the past, the majority of these migrants have come to the border seeking to initiate a legal process: one that leads to asylum status in the US.
We have always had the goal of a just, humane, and workable asylum system. We have always wanted people on the move to have a dignified way to access and cross the border. Now more than ever, we recognize that the work of accompaniment does not end when a person fleeing violence enters the US. It is equally important to ensure that these friends, these people who we have connected with and gotten to know, are able to live with dignity and community on US soil.
This realization is one reason why we named Migrant Integration, or ensuring migrants are participating in sustained communities of mutual accompaniment in the US, as one of the priorities of our 5-year strategic plan. We want to welcome migrants and ensure they are able to thrive in new soil. Everyone has a role to play in making this possible. Personally, we have seen Kino volunteers, partners, and The Church have been vital partners in migrant integration throughout the US.
Today, we want to give you a closer look at the way your neighbors are embodying the restoration Christ promises: both your neighbors who have not migrated, and your neighbors who have. Both of these groups are likely in a city close to you.
What happens when an asylum-seeker crosses the border
When someone presents at the port of entry to an official, the official will typically ask them a few questions. Then, the person seeking protection will either be detained or released into a community in the US. Recently, we have noticed that more single adults are being detained, while families are more likely to be permitted to enter the US. Apart from that pattern, it is difficult to predict whether a person will be detained or released – decisions have been quite arbitrary and unpredictable. To read a first-hand account of a family whose members were separated due to this lack of clarity, click here.
Most of the people we accompany who are released into the US have a destination where they’re headed – often a family member or friend is waiting to welcome them. Sometimes, their destination can offer a lot of support for them. Other times, a person who has just arrived may need more support from a broader network.
Bernie Eguia, our social worker, has accompanied several people who have had vastly different experiences, even though they all went to the same US city and were welcomed by family.
“One woman crossed about a year ago, and says the adjustment has been easy. Her family was well established, helped her find her footing and access resources, and it’s been a good family dynamic,” Bernie explains. As a result, this woman most wants to find resources to broaden her social network and connect with fellow migrants to form a community.
Another woman arrived in the same place and was also welcomed by family, but the process has been much bumpier. Bernie shares, “Her goal is to be independent, and it’s been a struggle. She hasn’t been able to open a bank account yet, which means that she is only able to keep cash. No bank account means no debit card, which can limit a lot of her opportunities – including for transportation. Although she’s been seeking a job, she hasn’t gotten the support she needs in order to acquire a work permit or identification, which means a lot of employers have been unwilling to work with her. The situation has been a lot more complicated.”
Lastly, Bernie notes that a third woman in the same city has felt so welcomed and integrated that she’s ready to do it for others! Bernie smiles, “She told me that I could send her the phone numbers of other migrants, even if they just needed a listening ear. She worked with other migrants to collect clothes for the comedor and is trying to coordinate how to get them to me. It’s amazing.”
As these stories illustrate, everyone needs accompaniment. People can arrive in the same place, but depending on their personal circumstances, their access to resources will be very different.
One of the key areas migrants where migrants need accompaniment is navigating systems and accomplishing bureaucratic tasks like:
- Accessing healthcare
- Finding an attorney for their asylum case
- Enrolling children in school
- Applying for a work visa when allowed by law
- Applying to work
- Transportation or learning how to use public transportation
- Locating and reuniting with other family members already in the US
If you are a US citizen who has not migrated, you may know firsthand how difficult it is to navigate some of these systems, even for a lifelong US citizen! It can be exponentially more confusing for people who have fled violence.
Whatever the specific situation, every person who arrives in the US needs basic welcome, hospitality and support. When someone is in a new country, especially when there’s a language barrier, it’s critical to have friends who can look out for the person and assist with basic logistics like how to acquire food.
“We all have people who accompany us through our life to ensure we can live with dignity and get our needs met,” says Executive Director Joanna Williams. “Usually those people are in the background of our lives, or we don’t realize how much others are doing for us. When a migrant arrives, it’s our opportunity to do the same work of accompaniment and to become that support network.”
How communities are rising up to accompany migrants in the US
As part of our migrant integration focus, we have been activating partners and institutions who already have a connection to everything we do here at Kino. When these partners say “yes” to welcoming asylum-seekers, we have seen time and again that doing so results in mutual transformation and accompaniment.
Every person has a role to play in welcoming people fleeing violence. When it comes to our strategic priority of migrant integration, we often start with people we know. Often, we have gotten to know people here in Ambos Nogales.
Typically through the education team, we begin a partnership with an institution like a school or a Church when they send a group on an immersion experience. As part of that immersion experience, we end with three potential follow-up actions for when they return home. One of them is to accompany migrants in their own communities.
“The encouragement is to form community with migrants and to be intentional in knitting together migrants’ networks and the institutions’ local network, too,” says Director of Education and Advocacy Pedro De Velasco.
We have loved seeing people heed this call. Whether the form of accompaniment seems large or small, it’s critical to remember that each action makes a difference. Here are a few examples of ways we have seen people begin to accompany migrants in their own communities:
- Carey in New York is a member of the JRS/USA Migrant Accompaniment network.She has accompanied migrants who have come through Kino and has been to Kino on an immersion experience herself. “Knowing that we both know KBI staff and the physical space in Nogales makes the connection between us so powerful,” she says. Most recently, she supported a migrant “R.” in acquiring their New York ID.
- An ESL teacher is tutoring a migrant, Eva, remotely in English classes to support her language acquisition.
- One person in Denver is cataloging ESL resources and sending them back to our team member Bernie to ensure that Bernie can let migrants know about resources before they cross. These actions are a great example of how people taking action in the US makes us better at accompanying migrants in Nogales, too!
Individual action is powerful. When these individuals band together and partner with their institutions, the impact can be even greater. One beautiful example of a Church rising up has been Holy Trinity in Washington, DC. After sending delegations on multiple immersion experiences, the church launched their Migrant Familia ministry.
“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 Holy Trinity parishioner who has helped nurture the bond between Kino and Holy Trinity.
As part of this initiative, members of the church donate to a “Migrant Fund” that covers expenses related to housing, legal support, food, security, and healthcare. They also maintain an amazon wish list and an active list of volunteers who are ready to support migrants with transportation and conversation. Holy Trinity has formally accompanied 23 individuals/families through this initiative!
The key thing to remember is that we have an opportunity to be the hands and feet of Christ as we welcome our neighbors. Migrants are here in the US and often our literal, geographic neighbors. We have the opportunity to act, and no action is too small or too big to make a difference when demonstrating hospitality and solidarity. Even better, every action towards welcoming migrants kicks off its own cycle of blessings as they take root and give back to the community.
Migrants Integrating Migrants: Nurturing Sustainable Communities of Welcome
When we extend the hand of welcome towards migrants, we receive all of the unique strengths and gifts that they bring with them across the border as well. Often, we find that the people who are best equipped to integrate migrants into the US are other migrants who have already experienced hospitality!
Evelia and Roberto Carlos are two such people. Evelia has a natural talent in navigating systems. Once she arrived in California, she received accompaniment in acquiring her phone, healthcare, etc. Once she acquired her own work permit, she began reaching out to Kino asking for migrants who were travelling to the same state where she lived. “If you send me people with similar area codes to me, I can get in touch with them and work to get them set up,” she told us. She began connecting with migrants in her area. She got in touch with a pregnant mom from Honduras who didn’t realize she had the right to access healthcare. Evelia helped her find the closest local clinic and enroll in California’s MediCal program.
After arriving in St. Louis with his family, Roberto Carlos has taken similar action. With the support of a community accompanying him, he was able to set up an apartment with his wife and three daughters. “Now that I know how it’s done, I’ve helped other people to find apartments and fill out the application online,” he says. He is grateful for the many people “God has put in our path to support us,” and with that footing, is working to make the US more welcoming. Formerly a member of the Revolucionarios while in Nogales, Sonora, Roberto Carlos has joined a group called Migrantes Unidos and is pressing for policy change for migrants on both sides of the border. “We fighting for our rights here, too,” he says, “We need more policies that treat us like people who just want a place for their children to learn, play, and laugh safely.
His encouragement: to be ready to welcome others with open arms.
You can take a step toward Migrant Integration
Even if you have never been a part of our immersion experience, you have the opportunity to join this vision of migrant integration, too.
- Right now, we are piloting an initiative to support migrants throughout the US with a focus on several key cities: Atlanta, Los Angeles, Indianapolis, Phoenix, and Chicago. If you live in or near one of these cities, email Bernie Eguia at email@example.com to get in touch with us to learn more about how to take action!
- If you are not near one of these cities, the reality is that you still likely have migrants as neighbors. Find a local organization doing the work of welcoming and accompanying migrant siblings and get involved. Take small actions! Every bit helps.
If you are part of a group that is ready to take a stand in solidarity and accompany migrants, consider starting a partnership between your group and Kino. Just like Holy Trinity or St. Joseph’s Parish has shown, the Church lives into its mission in a beautiful way when it seeks to welcome the stranger. You can click here to begin that journey.
Last but not least – you can contribute your time and treasure. Part of accompaniment is the sharing of resources, including financial support. When you join our monthly Vecinos program, you are ensuring that Kino has the necessary resources to welcome migrants here in Ambos Nogales and then connect them with an active, welcoming network once they enter the US.
We each can play a role in ensuring Migration with Dignity is possible, both at the border and here in the US. Thank you for the ways you have already joined that vision.