Amidst the suffering endured by migrants who are apprehended, detained, and deported, a deep bond of common experience and common humanity is forged, and many a migrant story includes touching details of kind strangers, helpful advice, and shared resources. Every day, the KBI encounters people who, despite their own pain and untenable circumstances, offer sustenance and solidarity to others. Tere is one of them.
Deported to Nogales, Sonora after decades of living in Phoenix, Tere arrived at the KBI comedor and women’s shelter last spring. She’d established a life there amid extended family and her two daughters, ages 11 and 9. A Mexican woman in her thirties, Tere was a committed employee and community activist, volunteering for a number of local organizations and participating in immigrant rights campaigns. The deportation undid all she had worked to achieve, but though devastated, Tere committed herself to figuring out next steps, hoping to find a way for her young girls, both U.S. citizens, to visit her in Nogales.
However, a means for legally returning to Phoenix or seeing her children was not readily possible. So Tere decided to re-enter the U.S. from Mexicali in Baja California where she’d heard crossing might be easier. At the border, she was apprehended and sent to a detention center in San Luis, Arizona for two months. The conditions there were, as often reported, poor and inhumane. She was given a stained uniform and used underwear; the food was inedible; medical care was inadequate. But the greatest burden was the inability to be in contact with her loved ones on a regular basis.
Deported to Mexicali after completing her 60-day sentence, she discovered a border city very different from Nogales—the population was larger and the work opportunities more advantageous. There, a friend she’d met at the KBI women’s shelter, Karla, joined Tere so they could divide expenses and support each other through such a challenging time, and they rented a small room at a migrant shelter together.
Within a month, the dynamics of the city and shelter changed dramatically as a migrant caravan from Central America arrived at the border. Suddenly, there were 300 people staying at the shelter. Tere remembers the atmosphere as a “beautiful thing. There were so many people who worked together, and the city found a way to help them. The shelter didn’t have enough beds, but we were able to find blankets and sleeping mats, and people slept on the patio and anywhere there was space to keep everyone safe and comfortable.”
With so many mouths to feed, at the shelter and in the surrounding neighborhood, the staff asked Tere and Karla if they would be available to cook. They were more than happy to work at the shelter, and along with two other women, prepared two meals daily—one at 9 AM, and the other at 4 PM—first for 300 people, then 400, and ultimately, up to 600. As more Hondurans, Guatemalans, and Salvadorans arrived, they shared with Tere the reasons behind their flight—state violence, extreme poverty, gang threats, and situations that, as Tere described them, were “difficult beyond imagination.”
Since then, both Tere and Karla have maintained their connections with the KBI, visiting with the staff as recently as December. Tere is grateful for the opportunity she was given to serve and work alongside members of the caravan. She considers that she, too, is a migrant who has confronted poverty, family separation, and detention, all first-hand experiences that heighten the compassion and understanding she feels. She explains that Mexicali is a much calmer place than Tijuana, where she has heard that violence and rhetoric against Central American migrants is widespread. That, too, stirs a kindred feeling in Tere as she compared that situation to the one often seen in the U.S.: “We are told [these new arrivals] are criminals, but in reality, they are not. It’s the same as what was said about me and my family in the U.S., but we were just trying to survive and give our families the best opportunities possible. [The U.S.] needs us, and we need the chance to survive and get ahead. I think the U.S. should give them, and us, a chance.”