The KBI has its roots in Ambos Nogales, but its work extends to Washington, Mexico City and beyond.
By: Roxane Ramos
During the height of the immigration debate in 2006, amid news of marches, protests, and escalating migrant deaths, a number of Jesuit organizations were moved to action. How could they help? What would be the best response to the current crisis? What were the greatest needs? Was a migrant ministry viable and where should it be?
They conducted a needs assessment, interviewing people from the Diocese of Tucson and direct aid organizations in Southern Arizona. They also talked with those working on migrant issues in Douglas, Agua Prieta, and Ambos Nogales. Here’s what they learned:
• Nogales had become a central point of deportation along the U.S.–Mexico border, second only to Tijuana in number of deportations.
• Most migrants deported to Nogales did not come from the Nogales, and so found themselves without resources, far from home.
• Women and children were particularly vulnerable—to abuse, violence, trafficking, extortion, and harsh desert conditions.
• Current border services for deported migrants could not meet the growing need, and these efforts, though well-meaning, were not well-coordinated.
• There was a vast and urgent need for education—of citizens in the U.S. and Mexico, of elected officials, of the migrants themselves—to increase awareness about immigration issues, migrant rights, and the motivations and external forces behind migration.
• In order to achieve maximum effectiveness and impact, any effort would need to be bi-national, in recognition of both the multinational nature of immigration and basic Catholic social teachings (there are many cultures and peoples, but one faith that holds human dignity as sacred).
And so, with the confidence of these assessment results and funding of various Catholic organizations behind them , the Kino Border Initiative/Iniciativa Kino para la Frontera was born. On the Mexican side of the border, the Missionary Sisters of the Eucharist were already serving meals in a makeshift aid center (or comedor—soup kitchen—as it is affectionately known), and the KBI expanded these direct aid activities to include a first aid-station and shelter. In 2013, the KBI served 48,788 meals, housed 479 women and children, and offered medical assistance for dehydration, severely blistered feet and other health concerns to 1,833 migrants.
In addition, the KBI looked ahead and began gathering resources to help change local, regional and national immigration policies with educational programs, advocacy and research on both sides of the border. This bi-national approach is unique among border organizations, and has already resulted in increased understanding among workshop participants, and changed language in bills before Congress where Father Sean Carroll, the KBI executive director, has often been called on to testify. (More in future newsletters.)
“The border is a place of worlds meeting,” says Father Sean. “ It is a place of challenge, need and grace.” And with 5 years of momentum and growing support behind them, the Kino Border Initiative continues its work where the need is greatest, in that transitional space that divides and unites—la frontera.
The KBI Collaborators
No less than six organizations joined forces to bring the KBI to fruition. They were: the California Province of the Society of Jesus; the Mexican Province of the Society of Jesus; the Missionary Sisters of the Eucharist, based in Colima, Mexico; the Jesuit Refugee Service/USA; the Diocese of Tucson; and the Archdiocese of Hermosillo.