By: Roxane Ramos
The Missionary Sisters of the Eucharist provide aid, comfort and a temporary home to deported migrants.
The first thing you notice about the Kino Border Initiative’s Aid Center for Deported Migrants is the overwhelming warmth and welcoming atmosphere of the place. This modest, makeshift space, known as the comedor, accommodates 50–60 recently deported migrants for breakfast and lunch everyday, including holidays. And the substantive meals that issue forth from the tiny, well-organized kitchen are like a twice-daily miracle of physical and spiritual nourishment.
It all happens through the committed work of numerous volunteers and KBI staff. They cheerfully greet every person who walks through the door and, in addition to delicious food, offer clothing, first aid, referrals to assistive agencies, and a chance to share stories. The entire direct aid effort in Nogales, Mexico is coordinated by Father Ricardo Machuca Hernández and an unassuming, but remarkable, trio of nuns from the Missionary Sisters of the Eucharist, based in Colima, Mexico—Sister María Engracia Robles Robles, Sister Alicia Guevara Perez, and Sister Cecilia Lopez Arias. What they create is a home away from home for migrants who have been deported to a new city where they know no one, complete with camaraderie, affection, even laughter, and a sweet cat, Chiquilina, who patrols the premises for mice.
Sister Engracia is the educator of the group, informing migrants of their rights and recording the trials of their journeys and reports of abuse or intimidation. “If you find yourself feeling badly, feeling mistreated,” she tells the attentive men and women, “then it may be because someone has violated your rights.” For many, this is the first time someone has itemized these basic conditions that every human being is entitled to—the right to personal security, the right to be with one’s family. What she encounters is a great deal of humility, shame and fear among the migrants she interviews. They don’t wish to be a burden, or are beset by the feelings of self-blame so often exhibited by victims of mistreatment. Frequently, they are afraid of irreversible repercussions if they complain or report. Sister Engracia and the comedor volunteers listen, reassure, and explain the importance of collecting this information while preserving privacy.
Sister Alicia and Sister Cecelia, a tag-team of compassion, alternate working in the comedor and Casa Nazareth, the shelter that houses up to 8 women and children (or more—no one is turned away, and the women graciously share beds). There, the migrants can rest and recover after the disorientation and trauma of their journeys. The Sisters provide a safe space for the migrants and, through cooking together, making art, and sharing their experiences, the women restore themselves so they can think through what their next steps will be. As Sister Cecelia explains, the time provides a means of “levantando su amino” (“lifting their mood”). Sister Alicia adds, speaking about both the comedor and the shelter, “The migrants can experience some joy and trust,” and leave the KBI facilities with renewed faith in their fellow human beings, some of whom have behaved in harsh or harmful ways.
All the Sisters talk about “accompanying” the migrants, a word that loses something in the translation. The first thought in English is “Accompanying to where?” But what acompañar really means, in this context, is to truly be with the migrants, to know their suffering, and to stand by them as they go through this rootless experience. To accompany the migrants is to help them feel stronger in heart, body, mind and spirit as they continue on their life’s road, wherever it may take them. The future is uncertain, but they can enjoy the solidarity and comfort of compañeros, a “family” of support and, for the moment—for a meal, for a night—a place that feels like home.