Nogales, Sonora, sits across the border from Nogales, Arizona. The Arizona Nogales is home to about 20,000 people. The Mexican Nogales is ten times as large, and largely run by drug cartels and the government agencies they influence directly and indirectly.
The main Nogales border crossing is among the busiest across the entire 2,000-mile border. Two miles to the west, the Mariposa crossing serves mostly commercial trucking traffic as well as a growing number of private autos trying the beat the hours-long wait at the main town-center crossing. The streets of the town center seem almost abandoned during the day, the nighclubs and brothels serving US border-crossers opening only toward the evening with a scattering of dental clinics, also serving U.S. day-trippers, open mostly by appointment.
Four of us – two 50-plus teachers from Washington State and two recent college grads, both young women, one from New Zealand and one from nearby Tucson – parked our car near the main crossing and walked across the border througb the perfunctory first-world passport checks and onto the streets of the town center.
We made our way by foot over toward the Mariposa, seeking out El Comedor – the food hall – that served hundreds of migrants trapped by the new U.S. policy of “remain in Mexico.” They’re being pushed back into Mexico now, even after they’d been approved for asylum hearings because of documented fear of persecution in their home countries, mostly in Central America but also including Mexico, Cuba, Haiti, northern Africa, and other troubled nations. These migrants face waits certainly of weeks, generally of months, and in some cases of years before being legally allowed back across the border for their hearings. Yet even that hope and the dubious odds of sustaining themselves and their families in that suspended state in the corrupt city of Nogales pressed up agains the border, is a promise worth the risk when weighed against returning to the lawlessness, the gangs, the brutality and the hunger of the places they’d started out from.
Just on the Mexican side of the border the Kino Border Initiative, started by six Catholic organiations based in Arizona, has fed 50,000 meals a year to migrants and deportees for more than a decade. It also runs a shelter for families and extensive education programs to help foster understanding of border issues among American students, teachers and families.
The Kino Border Initiative offers presentations by its eductaion team in border-area schools; immersion programs for students, familes and teachers coming downt to Nogales to witness and serve; and extended volunteer opportunities.
Teachers, students and families with an interest can learn more here: https://www.kinoborderinitiative.org/education/
As we traveled by foot from the main border crossing in Nogales toward the Mariposa crossing and El Comedor, where we hoped to help serve the lunch meal, drop off a donation, and meet migrant families and their helpers, we tried to walk close to the wall for navigation and safety. After the second rough character accosted us, we flagged down a taxi and took the last mile by road.
Once in El Comedor’s small building alongside the long line of cars and trucks waiting to make the border crossing – two brand-new donor-funded buildings across the road will open shortly with more capacity – we were warmly welcomed by the tightly-packed room full of migrants and a dozen volunteers and staff. Following the unwritten rule of faith-driven aid stations across the world, we all enjoyed and endured a 90-minute service, with small kids getting fidgety and scrambling for release and adventure and tired parents some literally just off the migration path hundreds of miles long nodding off, led by the Padre and filled with warmth. Then we served the meal, finding time to talk and listen as we could, and making communion with these travelers as we had hoped.