Our aim has always been to see a world where migration with dignity is possible. In pursuing that end, it is truly amazing to see the road traveled and how much ground we’ve covered. KBI’s humble origins begin as far back as 2006, when Madre Engracia and the Missionaries of the Eucharist recognized the growing need to serve the migrant population being deported back after crossing the desert. Nogales had become a central point for deportation along the U.S.-Mexico border, second only to Tijuana; yet, there barely existed infrastructure to support this population. Through the faithfulness of the Missionaries of the Eucharist and the support of the Society of Jesus, the Kino Border Initiative was born.
We have faced significant challenges, transitions, and growth since then. The past two years held particularly weighty changes. For many years, a major focus of our work was opening a new Migrant Outreach Center. In March 2020, we were thrilled to achieve this goal! Now, the Migrant Outreach Center is fully operational; it is bursting at the seams with activity.
A little less than one year later, we underwent another significant transition. We gratefully bid farewell to our founder, Sean Carroll, S.J., and welcomed Joanna Williams as our new Executive Director. We know that transition invites us into fresh discernment. Opening the doors of the Migrant Outreach Center meant we could consider new horizons and priorities. New leadership brings new vision, and often new gifts. As we embarked on a binational strategic planning process last October, we sensed that the time was right for new growth. We wanted to carefully discern the best priorities for advancing migration with dignity.
We are coming out of the process with an invigorated sense of identity and renewed focus. We reaffirmed our Catholic identity as an organization and reflected on how it impacts every element of our work. We uncovered critical issues we must face over the next few years and clarified how to best direct our efforts. The result is five strategic priorities: Holistic Accompaniment, Migrant Integration, Local Hospitality, Policy Change, and Equity and Wellness.
Together, these priorities will guide our work towards advancing migration with dignity. We hope you will accompany us in this new season with your prayers, encouragement, and your financial support.
Meeting the basic humanitarian needs of migrants has been essential since KBI’s inception. We have always supported migrants’ access to basic needs like food, shelter, clothing, and safety. Over the years, we have developed a more holistic approach. Our first strategic priority is to expand this work, growing our ability to support migrants in body, mind, and spirit. A holistic approach represents our belief that migrants are multi-faceted and complex individuals; each aspect of their being deserves care.
KBI’s Shelter Coordinator, Josefina “Pina” Bejarano Padilla says, “Holistic accompaniment is about seeing the person as a whole person. We want them to feel seen as an individual, to feel valued. We want them to know their worth.”
Supporting migrants holistically takes space and attentiveness. As part of our strategic plan, we want to create more space for community, recreation, and migrant well-being by acquiring additional physical space. In the coming years, we will purchase more land for a community garden, additional prayer space, play equipment for kids and other infrastructure. Additionally, we are pushing to create a transitional housing program for migrants in Nogales, Sonora. This initiative will enable us to offer longer-term opportunities for migrants to build full lives and utilize their gifts. Finally, we will be expanding our ability to respond to migrants throughout Sonora, particularly in areas beyond Nogales where migrants are concentrated and underserved.
One migrant named Nathalie said, “I always felt safe thanks to the unconditional support I had at Kino. Being with you all made me realize how strong I can be.”
Through holistic accompaniment, we demonstrate our commitment to journey with migrants, recognizing them as God’s children who are more than their experience of migration.
Migration with dignity extends far beyond crossing the border. Our work has put us in a unique position of trust. We regularly and deeply connect with migrants. These bonds continue after a person has entered the U.S., but their focus shifts. Once our siblings in migration enter the U.S., our invitation is to come alongside them in building a life and community in a new place. At KBI, we want to expand our ability to continue accompanying migrants and creating communities that welcome them. We aim to mobilize our network to do so, too.
We will do this first by leveraging our existing networks among Catholic networks, schools, and participants in our educational programming. We must equip these people and their communities to weave migrant neighbors into their social fabric. As part of this, we will bolster migrants’ efforts to support each other as well.
While we have great faith in migrants’ and regular people’s ability to do good, we recognize that professional support is also key. As part of this strategic priority, we aim to hire social workers who will focus on supporting migrants’ integration in the U.S. Navigating unfamiliar systems in a new country is extremely challenging, making this expertise available will benefit both migrants and welcoming communities.
Sister Anastasia “Tachita” Monjaras, a social worker at KBI, said, “What gives me hope is that with migration I discover a different world, a more human world. Because they say the more difficult it is, the more hands that join. That seems very noble to me. There are many people who care and collaborate. It is not a job of one person, it takes teamwork. It means being in a team with the migrants.” Migrant integration means becoming that thoughtful, committed team.
“I am from Nogales, and I live in a migrant neighborhood. There is a lot of flow. Many come to cross the border, but others end up staying because of the difficulty of passing. They experience another lifestyle, and some like it and decide to stay.” – Victor Lara, Maintenance Technician at KBI
Due to U.S. policy in recent years, many migrants wait for extended periods of time in border communities like Nogales, Sonora. Even as migrants are forced to be in limbo, the daily necessities of life continue. Migrants must be able to support their families, live in safety, connect with others, and provide for their children while waiting at the border. The local community on the Mexico side of the border has often been resistant and discriminatory to these new neighbors. We frequently hear reports of abuse, mistreatment, and discrimination.
“We found work selling shoes at a store,” shared Yasmina, a migrant who lived in Nogales for months while waiting to seek asylum. Her partner, Belsica continued, “They laughed at the way we spoke. Maybe we didn’t express ourselves in the best way. I felt isolated. Honestly, sometimes, it made me want to cry.” Eventually, they both quit; the bullying was unbearable.
These experiences of harassment, intimidation, and harm are all too common. As part of our strategic plan, we want to change that. Through our presence, KBI has become a credible community member in Nogales, Sonora. As such, we are ready to step in and promote better treatment and opportunity for migrants while they are at the border.
We recognize that education and outreach on the Mexico side will be critical in fostering a welcoming culture for migrants. Changing this reality will require leveraging our relational capital. One of our first steps will be to increase our migrants services team’s capacity to engage in local advocacy in Sonora. We must connect, educate, and advocate. We will work to shape a new, more welcoming culture by connecting with local decision-makers and residents, ensuring that they hear migrants’ voices and stories. We want to use our connections to promote a better understanding of the migrants’ journeys, as well as the strengths they bring to local communities. This local advocacy will, in turn, promote more welcoming policies and postures.
With greater empathy and connection in place, we seek to leverage migrants’ strengths to improve their treatment in Sonora. When migrants are welcomed, we know that the entire community flourishes thanks to increased capacity and diversity.
A better system for migration is possible. We must create the political will to enact it. Doing so requires us to change hearts and minds through strategic education.
“There is a lot of misinformation and misconceptions around immigration,” says Pedro De Velasco, Director of Education and Advocacy. “Our work is to remove that veil and help people see the reality migrants live with everyday. That’s how we sow seeds for people to become advocates.”
We have seen firsthand that by lifting migrant voices, shining a light on the realities we see, and bringing others into transformational experiences, we can activate people to come alongside their migrant siblings.
Migrant perspectives are central to helping us understand how policies must change. No one understands the harms of our current policies better than those who have experienced them. As part of this strategic priority, we will document the harms of current policy and work with partners to amplify these stories. Too often, politicians and others are able to ignore the consequences of current U.S. policy because they simply don’t hear the stories. We must bear witness, and bring this witness directly to decision-makers.
We believe that empowering migrants to tell their own stories is critical to making change. We will invest heavily in building migrants’ leadership capacity and platforms. This will include mobilizing migrants who have traveled through KBI and are in the U.S. These individuals are constituents of elected officials. Their very presence reminds officials that migration is not a matter of “the people at the border,” but rather an experience and ongoing reality for their own neighbors. As such, migrants are uniquely positioned to advocate for people on both sides of the border with clarity on the challenges migrants’ face and the strengths migrants bring. We want their voices to be heard far and wide.
As migrants’ stories voices ring out, we know that it’s especially important that communities who can leverage decision-makers hear them. If we want policy change, we must make it apparent to politicians that a more humane migration system will benefit them politically. That means swaying their constituents.
We are proud to say that we have the curriculum, network, and resources to do this. In practice, this means we will leverage our educational programming to engage communities that are more conservative, uncertain, or apathetic with regards to immigration. We have seen firsthand that our thoughtful, migrant-centered, and clear educational programming can awaken communities and shift paradigms.
The leader of one student group remarked, “I have seen a lot more open conversation and less hostility from students about migration. A culture is emerging where it is not acceptable to talk about migration in purely ideological terms. This is a very large gain.”
Transformations like these will enable us to build leadership, including at key schools and parishes where we can begin to consolidate a network of allies in sustained political action. Through these efforts, we envision raising up allies who are ready to invest significant energy and take risks on behalf of migrants.
The appetite for change will arise from deep empathy, awareness, and hope. Politicians, citizens, and neighbors must all value migrant dignity and recognize that when migrants can flourish, it benefits all of us.
Equity and Wellness
We are unique in our binational structure and multicultural approach. Because of this, it’s essential that we work to ensure that our staff and volunteers, both religious and lay-people, experience dignity, wholeness, and care in their journeys with KBI. Just as we seek to be holistically attentive to migrants, so we want to be with the people God has brought to this effort.
Judy Bierbaum, a long-time KBI volunteer and retired psychologist, says, “The rate of burnout can be really high. We need to learn how to metabolize trauma and second-hand trauma to ensure that people can be healthy and keep going.”
Promoting a culture of self-care and community care among all members of our team will be a top priority. Doing so will entail addressing the trauma our staff and volunteers experience by offering community-care, spiritual accompaniment, and emotional support. As part of our plan, we will hire new staff members who can offer this support to our team. We will seek equitable solutions to issues of compensation and benefits, recognizing that if we want justice for people of all nationalities, we must start with ourselves.
Preserving the equity and wellness of our team is not only our responsibility, it is our joyful witness. Through these initiatives we aim to be an example of what a thriving, multinational and multicultural community can look like.
Coming out of this Strategic Planning process, we feel readiness and resolve to embark on this next season. We hold these strategic priorities in our hands, hopeful and invigorated, and we feel immense gratitude for our history. KBI has been a consistent and credible presence in the U.S./Mexico border since we were officially inaugurated in 2010. Throughout the past 12 years, our programs and services have grown and changed to meet the ever-changing needs and dynamics of migrants. We have done so as a proclamation of faith and a declaration of love for our migrant siblings. We are sustained by faith, love, and the support of a vast network of people like you.
Our work is far from over. The challenges and possibilities that migrants face have only grown over the past twelve years. These strategic priorities ensure that we will be prepared to respond, proactively meeting the moment and charting a course towards a better reality in Ambos Nogales and beyond.
We remain committed to humanizing the issue of migration and recognizing the God-given dignity of every migrant man, woman and child we encounter. May these strategic initiatives get us closer to a world in which all of our siblings can journey in safety, humanity, and hope.
Over our history, we have always seen that we are most powerful when we connect and move forward together. Support from people like you has been essential to doing so. If you are ready to stand with us and with migrants, we invite you to invest in this vision today.