It has been a longtime vision of KBI to expand the services we are able to offer migrants. After years of searching for the right place, we are delighted to be nearing completion on our new migrant outreach center. In the new center, we will be able to offer a greater variety of services to accompany migrants.
Recent visitors to KBI are likely aware of the progress being made on the migrant outreach center. Located directly across the street from our current facility, it will greatly expand what we are able to offer to migrants in Nogales through a variety of services designed to meet a diversity of needs. We have nearly reached our financial goal for the new center, but are still seeking donations for the final stages. Many people are asking how the new center will be different from the current space, and what additional opportunities will exist for migrants to be supported in their journeys. This article explains what changes are planned, how this improves upon existing opportunities; and why these services are particularly essential at this time.
Several years ago, the owner of what will in the coming months formally become KBI’s new migrant aid center approached Fr. Samuel Lozano to see if KBI had interest in buying the building. Gomez del Campo & Moreno, a legal firm with offices in Hermosillo and Phoenix as well as Notaría 99 in Nogales, Sonora helped with the process to make the purchase possible. In June of 2018, KBI bought the building, and we closed on it in August of 2018. The new space is 19,600 square feet and was previously used as a maquiladora, or a center for manufacturing particularly common in the border area for the production of goods for export. It had been operational from the mid-1990s until 2006.
From the earliest days of KBI’s work, it was clear that additional space was needed to most fully address the physical, emotional, spiritual, and logistical needs of the migrants who arrived to Nogales. For nearly eight years, KBI staff searched for an adequate space before the new migrant center became available; none of the other sites visited quite fit the needs or vision for the new migrant center.
Throughout KBI’s history, we have been extremely fortunate to have benefited from the support of many talented, generous individuals, organizations, parishes and schools; this is equally true in our work to open the new migrant aid center. The names of those who have been part are extensive, but of particular note José Luis Cuevas, Jr.—a KBI board member, resident of Nogales, Arizona, and architect—who donated his time and services to design the new building. In tandem with conversations with KBI staff, he drew upon his years as a volunteer at the comedor to design a space with an expansive vision to meet the needs of migrants. Tony Dabdoub, also a KBI board member, provided the construction work through his company, Construade de Sonora, SA de CV, of Nogales, Sonora and his cousin, Luis Dabdoub, helped with the negotiation process.
There are numerous areas of attention and services that will be provided in the new center that have not been wholly possible to this point. The areas of growth and change are numerous, but among the most significant are the following:
- In the current space, 80-90 people can eat at one time. During 2019, this has meant that there are often 2-3 meal shifts served in both the mornings and afternoons. Those who do not fit inside the comedor during one meal shift wait outside until the first shift has cleared out, meaning they are exposed to heat, sun, rain, and watching their children on a busy street while they wait. In the new space, we will be able to offer food to 160 people at once, meaning that everyone or nearly everyone can be present for the same meal.
- We are currently able to offer 12 beds of overnight shelter space for women and children, with no beds available for men. This means that some of the families who are staying at the KBI shelter are spread out among several shelters in town, and also that we are only able to meet the housing needs of a particular demographic. Additionally, some of the shelters in Nogales cannot provide meals, so given the shelters’ location in the city, migrants have to walk several miles through the city in order to be able to eat a meal. In the new space, we will triple the number of beds available to women and children—from 12 to 36—and be able to offer 72 beds to men. This will expand the numbers of migrants in Nogales who are able to receive hospitality, a critical demand given the 2018 implementation of metering by the U.S. government and average wait times to present at ports of entry of multiple months. There will also be a small dormitory with beds for transgender migrants, a particularly vulnerable population who are often subject to abuse and violence in Nogales.
- Though we have been fortunate to offer medical, legal, and pastoral services in the current comedor, our capacity has been somewhat limited due to size considerations, a lack of privacy, and a multiplicity of services offered simultaneously. At the new space, there will be private spaces for legal consultations, social work, pastoral accompaniment, and medical treatment. Ideally, this will facilitate a way for people who arrive with trauma to safely feel vulnerable and express deep emotions. Additionally, there will be an administrative space, a chapel for prayer and reflection, classrooms to provide job training, and the opportunity to be creative with the space as new needs arise and demographics shift on the border.
- The new migrant center will be home to the “Livelihood Project”; a five-pronged project to assist migrants with securing employment in Nogales, Sonora. A percentage of people we receive at the comedor opt to seek employment in northern Mexico for a variety of reasons. One of the most common reasons cited is the relatively higher wages in northern border towns than in the interior of Mexico (which is of particular necessity when paying off debts incurred by the migratory journey). Another concern for some people is proximity to family members who remain in the U.S., particularly for those who have U.S. citizen children and/or family members who continue to live in the U.S. after their loved one has been deported to Mexico. For the individuals who choose to participate in the Livelihood Project, the program will offer an intake to determine interest and existing skills; an assessment of what documents are needed to pursue employment; training programs; attention to logistical considerations such as transportation needs; and an accompaniment program to provide guidance and support in a group setting and among peers. Most of the jobs readily available to recently-deported migrants in Nogales, Sonora are in the manufacturing sector or at a call center.
When migrants who are currently present at the comedor were asked how they thought the migrant center would change their daily lives, people noted they were looking forward to increased safety, fewer logistical considerations as they moved from one place to another throughout the day, and a better environment for families. Two parents from the Mexican state of Guerrero who, alongside their infant son and 5-year-old daughter, are waiting in Nogales to seek asylum said, “The new space will be much better. The main reason for this is that we will no longer have to walk so far in the heat and the rain in order to be able to eat.” (The family currently walks over two hours a day from the shelter where they are staying to the comedor.) Another man from Guerrero—a single father with his 9-year-old daughter who have been waiting in Nogales for over a month to seek asylum in the U.S., agreed. “The thing I am most looking forward to about the new shelter is that everything will be in one place. And I believe it will be safer for the children. Right now, I feel afraid for my daughter’s safety when we are outside because of the traffic and people who might harm her.” And a 68-year-old asylum-seeker from Honduras added, “The new space is a good idea; it will be much better. The three reasons I believe this are the beauty and elegance of the new facility; the additional space for more services such as a shelter and doctors’ offices; and the ways I think we will all feel more free and more comfortable. I would like to say, may God bless all of the people who have worked to make this possible.”
The move to the new space is a significant expansion, and will occur in phases over the next six months. The first phase will begin this fall, and it will culminate with a formal inauguration on February 12, 2020 at noon. We have nearly reached our capital campaign financial goal to ensure that the migrant center will become a reality by next February, but we are still fundraising to meet our final goal. Please see https://www.kinoborderinitiative.org/2019-capital-campaign-migrant-outreach-center/ for information on what needs remain, how you can support us in this transition, and more information on what the new space will look like.
As always, we are grateful for you, our community who tirelessly walks with us and who has been essential to this work. We continue to accompany and serve migrants on the border in a time when the need is particularly significant, and it would not be possible without you. We look forward to continuing the next phase of the journey together, and welcoming you into the new center alongside our siblings in migration.