Editorial: Kino Border Initiative

  • Ryan Mo ’20

Right around this time of year, the whole school would be collectively walking into Harman, greeted by service learning slides lighting up the projector. A line of nervous students gathered on the right, all recent participants of an immersion trip, quietly mumbling their speeches to themselves. This is the service immersion assembly. While we students begrudgingly sit, restlessly, knowing that these assemblies will al- ways go a few minutes into our precious office hours, taking five minutes off of our leisure time to socialize and eat a bagel, these assemblies are far more meaningful than often appreciated. They, if not convincing you to go on a service immersion trip yourself, often plant the seedlings of the “social awareness which impels action” that our education calls for.

However, this year we will have no such assembly. We will not be able to hear the heart- warming, albeit sometimes cringe-worthy, speeches detailing a very meaningful time in a student’s life. So I will try to share some of my own story of my time on the Kino Immersion Trip, with the hopes of sharing something meaningful during this unprecedented time, as well as raise awareness around the issues that immigrants are facing today. Me and my fellow immersioners’ first image of the border came as soon as we arrived in Nogales, Arizona. Walking down the main street of the melancholic downtown, we are dwarfed by the rusty brown pillars of the wall, running up into a towering dull grey border patrol office. A beaten, grimy white bus crawls past us towards the monolithic gate into Mexico.

One by one, young men started climbing down the steep stairs of the vehicle. Brown men, borderline boys. Not one of them has a jacket, belt or shoelaces. As they scurry past, picking up their beige, camouflage bags along the way, they look forwards into No- gales, Sonora, Mexico. We later discovered that these young men had just been arrested by Border Patrol and Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers, and were being immediately deported back to Mexico with no means of communication or plan to return home. Their story is not unique, multiple of these buses stop by every day at many such entry points.

This is for the majority of migrants seeking access to the United States their two options: either wait decades to be legally admitted, or enter illegally through the dangerous deserts of the south western border. The Kino Border Initiative is a Jesuit lead mission, working two-fold to help those very migrants safely enter into the United States. Their first goal is to provide humanitarian services directly to those waiting in, or recently deported to Sonora. Among these are services such as housing, legal aid, and education. How- ever, the foremost of these is the “Comedor,” or dining room in English. Soon to be transferred to a newer and larger facility, this one-kitchen operation serves up to 500 meals a day for all asylum seeking migrants. During breakfast, lunch, and dinner, the eight long wooden tables are packed shoulder to shoulder with immigrants of countless nationalities, all united by their desire to better the lives of their families.

The Comedor service is a vital service for the asylum seekers of Sonora who can’t afford a meal, as well as providing a sense of community with each other, both major pieces in the mission of humanizing them. The second goal of the KBI team is to collaborate with lawmakers and advocates to alter the immigration policies that have stranded over 60,000 people at the border. They do so through independent research, collaborative research with other renowned advocacy groups, and educating the fifty four student groups they host a year, such as Sacred Heart’s own service immersion program. Through spreading first hand experiences, they aim to combat the laws and practices that cause the inhumane treatment of migrants. One such piece of legislation is the “Re- main in Mexico” policy.

Amidst the constant bleak news headlines on our friend, COVID-19, this policy has been lost in the barrage. However, it was recently revived by the Supreme Court, after an appeals court blocked it on the grounds that it violated both federal law and international treaties. As part of President Donald Trump’s administration’s foreign policy, “Remain in Mexico” dictates that all asylum seekers be deported to the Mexican side of the border until their trial date. Before being enacted in 2018, migrants seeking asylum were granted protection on United States’ soil until their trial date. Not only does the likelihood of an asylum seeker from South America to be granted asylum extremely low, hovering around two percent, the wait time for just a trial hearing can take anywhere from six months to several years, leaving many vulnerable to the very violence they are fleeing.

This, along with a slew of other similar policies, block their rights to live a safe and prosperous life. A majority of whom are simply trying to reunite with aging family members or were once residents of the US themselves, not coming to steal jobs or bring gang violence and drugs across the border. While there are very few students among us who can vote in the upcoming elections or directly impact the legal system, calling and writing to your state representative is a great way to get your voice heard. However, the very first step in reversing these actions is not to go straight to changing legislation, rather it is to build solidarity. Solidarity is a topic we hear too much about in our religious classes, and is often forgotten in the jumble of other information we need to retain across seven classes.

Nevertheless, building solidarity, or togetherness with others, leads to empathy. And empathy ultimately leads to the changes required to help those who need it. So when everything returns to normal, I highly encourage you to go on a service immersion trip. I know the prospect of such a trip doesn’t sound fun, nor will it be easy. However, what I experienced on my trip greatly complicated my understanding of the world in the best way possible. The connections I formed were some of the most meaningful of my life. What follows is my favorite memory of those, one that I will never forget.

Na’ara, a shy girl about the age of a fifth grader, is a regular at the Comedor. She came with her family to escape the gang violence in Guatemala. I came to find out that it is a daily practice of her and her father, Manfredo, that they insist that they do the dishes, despite the many volunteers who could do it for them. I was incredibly touched by their astounding humility, and took every opportunity I could to help them and get to know them. I do not speak Spanish, and they do not speak English. However, during the few days I spent at the Comedor, I slowly came to know their story and laugh with them and love them. The little girl would always smile at me when she handed me dried dishes, and the father would explain to me as best he could how he was feeling that day. On our last day in Nogales, before I left, I mustered the little Spanish I knew, “adios… muchos gracias.” To which they gave me the biggest group hug and replied “no…thank you.”

By Axel de Vernou

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