The Advent and Christmas seasons invite us into the many journeys of Christ. In Advent, we think of the quiet, hidden journey Jesus takes from the heavenly realms into Mary’s womb, where he spends nine months taking on flesh. With Las Posadas, we remember how a government decree sends Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem, where they search for a place for Jesus to be born. At Christmas, we hit a high point – celebrating Jesus’ arrival and the journey towards a fully restored world. The joy soon mixes with grief on Three Kings Day, when we recall the slaughter of the innocents and Jesus’ subsequent flight into Egypt. Each journey is marked by the struggle between God’s desires for peace and justice and human empires that sow violence and reject the coming King.
Every day at Kino, we see echoes of each of these journeys. A common pattern emerges. People are often internally displaced within their own countries in an effort to stay. They appeal to their own laws, their own governments, even their own neighbors. Too often, by policy or by people, the situation becomes too untenable or violent to stay. Ultimately, individuals and families are forced to flee. Migrants like Roberto tell us, “We tried to make a life in Nogales, Sonora, but we still weren’t safe.”
In the backdrop of these early stories from Jesus’ life lies the great Roman Empire. Like powers across the world today, its installed rulers and policies push the Holy Family into migration. Yet we also see an example of hospitality. Jesus and his family seek (and find) asylum in Egypt, a province also under Roman occupation. Egypt’s acceptance invites us to consider what hospitality could look like for us.
The two other stories of God unfold continuously over all of this: that of God’s persistent incarnation and movement among us and the long, inexorable journey to a fully-restored reality. A world where every person, including Jesus, has the choice not to migrate OR to migrate with dignity.
Our commitment to faith calls us to join this story. We look for Jesus’ movements among us, and we work for countries that are more hospitable to people in migration, including those who are seeking asylum. Today, we will unpack some of the ways we are doing this work, and where we can go from here.
La Primera Posada: Local hospitality in Nogales, Sonora
When we think about Mary and Jesus’ door-to-door journey looking for shelter, we cannot help but think about our work here in the comedor and in Nogales. Many migrants have made this connection explicit, like a migrant organizer who said last year, “Just as the Holy Family, we want posada. We desperately need refuge.” This connection has been even more literal when migrants like Clara come to our door. She was nine months pregnant when she arrived in Nogales, and just days after entering our shelter, she gave birth to her son, Vicente. Just as Jesus was born in Bethlehem because of a far-away government’s decree, many migrants are displaced due to unjust policies decided by people hundreds, even thousands of miles away.
While we attend to the system-level policies that can push people to migrate, we also recognize that our Catholic faith believes in the parish. We are called to consider those around us and act locally. As communities, we can take our own action to enact Christlike welcome and sustainability. Our own actions here at the comedor and beyond are a key start. Since our inception, we have offered humanitarian assistance.
It’s time to go further. Our vision of holistic accompaniment is about offering more than warmth, food and safety. We want to ensure migrants experience radical hospitality and care for their entire physical, mental, emotional, and economic well-being. This is why elements of our strategic plan like creating recreation space and initiatives like the Livelihood Project are critical to creating deeper health and sustainability.
The nativity story also shows us that mobilizing the local community is also key to welcoming migrants. Without the innkeeper opening his doors, we have no idea where in Bethlehem Jesus would have been born. It is true that the manger is humble, but it is still a marker of the innkeeper’s willingness to share what he has. Alongside locals in Nogales, Mexican officials, and our Catholic brothers and sisters, we are working to mobilize communities of welcome at the border, too. To this end, we recently hosted critical meetings with Sonoran officials, the Bishop of Nogales, as well as Diocesan priests in Nogales, Sonora. Soon after, we hosted another three priests from the Nogales Diocese. These meetings were vital towards tackling initiatives that benefit both Nogalenses and migrants who are in Nogales. At the end of our meeting, the Bishop of Nogales commented, “Your work is also the work that the church needs to be doing.”
When we think about the Holy Family and that first posada, we don’t know how Bethlehem responded. What we do know is that we can take actions today so that those in Nogales and beyond are ready to welcome Holy Families seeking protection today.
The Shadowy Valley: Accompanying People as they Seek Border Access
We want migrants to have what they need to live sustainably and with dignity while they’re in Nogales. We want to see Nogales thrive by welcoming the gifts and strengths that migrants bring.
At the same time, we know that most of our siblings in migration did not intend to settle in Nogales, just as the Holy Family did not intend to settle in Bethlehem. Instead, the realities of injustice and violence push families to seek refuge in other lands. Soon after Jesus’ birth, we know that the ruler of his homeland – Herod, began a brutal campaign of murder in his efforts to cling to power. Too many of our siblings in migration have first-hand experience and can relate. Migrants like Suyapa have seen their hometowns and families ripped apart by violence. Like Jesus, Mary, and Joseph so long ago, they made the impossible choice to flee and seek asylum in a different land.
The scriptures do not tell us who cried out on Jesus’ behalf, but we commit ourselves to crying out when we see unjust policies and violence rending families. The scriptures do not tell us of Jesus’ hardships in Egypt, but our current reality suggests that there may have been many. In our day and age, migrants flee violence in their hometowns only to encounter more brutality from organized crime syndicates. We can only imagine what it would have been like if Jesus’ family had made it to the border of Egypt, only to be turned away under a fatuous public health order like Title 42.
In response to this story and to our faith, we must champion a more just, humane, and workable migration system – especially in the face of rampant violence. We stand against the apathy or even worse, vitriol, that governments demonstrate towards these holy families. And we work to mobilize advocates, both individuals and communities, who will complicate, humanize, and defend people across the border. While we may not have seen Jesus, Mary, and Joseph standing on Egypt’s doorstep, we see migrants walking in their footsteps at the US-Mexico Border. We do it from the halls of power in Washington and in Bogota, and we do it in small groups with people ready to meet migrants and stand in solidarity with them.
When we read the nativity story in its entirety, we see that the journey to Bethlehem was just the beginning of Jesus’ experiences as a migrant. Just as violence and unjust policies pushed his family to flee, so we see families today seeking refuge. Unlike Jesus and his family’s flight to Egypt, migrants today find no such path to find safety in the U.S.
Yet somehow, God finds a way. As we continue to advocate and accompany migrants seeking access to the border, we remember that many have managed to cross, against all odds. We must join together to keep accompanying our migrant siblings who reach the next horizon.
The Next Horizon: Welcome and Integration in the US
The Bible doesn’t tell us what Jesus’ years in Egypt looked like. What we do know is that he survived. In light of the fact that he was fleeing a genocide, this survival is no small thing. Safety is no small thing.
“I hear that when they release you to seek asylum in the US, the officer says, ‘You are free.’ I just so want to hear those words. With those words, with that reality, I’d be able to sleep peacefully at night,” a migrant named Miriam shared with our team. We imagine that the Virgin Mary slept peacefully for the first time upon crossing into Egypt. We want to see other migrants get this chance and to lay down the burdens they’ve been carrying, often for years.
We also want more for migrants like Miriam. Migration with Dignity is about more than mere survival. We believe that migrants can thrive here, and we know that their gifts can make U.S. communities flourish. This is how Migration with Dignity becomes the next horizon –
a bountiful season of flourishing both for migrants and for those of us who welcome them.
Every person, including people like you, can play a role in making this happen. Just a few months ago, we unveiled the JRS/USA Migrant Accompaniment network, a program of Jesuit Refugee Service/USA (JRS/USA) in collaboration with the Kino Border Initiative (KBI), the Ignatian Solidarity Network (ISN) and the Jesuit Community of El Paso. “The network engages volunteers across the U.S. and collaborates with partners in Mexico border cities, as well as throughout Mexico and Central America. It seeks to secure support and assistance for recently arrived asylum seekers, refugees and immigrants in their process of integration into their receiving communities across the U.S,” the JRS/USA shared on their website when the network was announced.
We continue to equip border communities to welcome migrants. At Ambos Nogales, we see ourselves as one city bisected by the border. Our prayer and our work is to equip other border communities to do the same. As our colleagues at the Southern Border Communities Coalition (SBCC) says, “Now is the time to recognize that border policies can affect us all, no matter where we are in the country.”
Many such communities have the desire to welcome and integrate migrants, they just lack the capacity. Close coordination, advocacy for resources, and encouragement can go a long way in making this a reality. These communities are ready to stand in solidarity! They just need support to welcome migrants in a sustainable way.
We know that arrival in the U.S. is both a new beginning and a continuation of one long journey. Esmeralda was able to enter the U.S. after years of waiting. She immediately felt the relief of safety and the hope of rebuilding her life in new soil. At the same time, she couldn’t stop thinking about the other migrants left behind.
“My mission hasn’t ended,” she told our staff. “The government needs to understand that seeking asylum is a right. It’s a right that every human being deserves to have.”
Let us join with migrants like Esmeralda to ensure that migrants can exercise their right to access the border. Let us welcome our siblings like her with open arms, as we can only hope the Egyptians did so long ago when they saw the toddler Jesus.
Like the hope it portends, the nativity story shines light in the darkness. In it, we see the depths of human cruelty. It is true that for many, the current realities of migration policy are full of darkness. The dreams of our migrant siblings are cast into shadow by violence, injustice, and uncertainty under policies like Title 42. While it is true, we have hope that Title 42 might end, we are uncertain if it will. When it does, we lament the fact that many other unjust policies are likely to swiftly take its place. These are sources of darkness that we must face.
Yet with our faith and spirituality at the center, we are unafraid of facing the darkness. Where others might see despair, we see promise and flickers of light. We see the possibility for hospitality in the innkeeper’s stable. We reach for the promise of safety and better policy as the Holy Family flees. We commit ourselves to be a people that welcomes them and provides refuge, just as they found solace in Egypt.
We hold this story closely because it is a story we see unfold every day. It’s a story we get to be a part of. Throughout this season, from Advent to Three Kings Day, we see God drawing near to us. We see God engaging with our reality, overcoming all odds to bring us hope and salvation. We see God’s movement and invitation to join the work of restoration.
In this season of watchful waiting, let us heed this invitation to enter the story Jesus is writing. Let us join with our migrant siblings to create a world where just, humane, and workable migration is a reality.
As we work daily and challenge the principalities that cause harm, let one truth sustain us: the Kingdom of God is at hand.