What Is It like to Offer Direct Services to Deported Migrants?

KBI Border Immersion Program. Photo credit, Innovate@Bcsocialwork Boston College Social Work Blog.

Joanna Williams, Director of Education and Advocacy at Kino Border Initiative (KBI) shares her experiences advocating and supporting migrants in both Nogales. The Kino Border Initiative (KBI) is a binational organization located in Nogales, Arizona and Nogales, Sonora, Mexico. The KBI’s vision is to help make humane, just, workable migration between the U.S. and Mexico a reality. They are a point of contact for people who want to be transformed by the reality of the border.

In 2016 almost 43,000 meals were served; 3,500 received first aid and 482 migrant women and children were sheltered.

“The men and women served at our kitchen have spent an average of 9.5 years in the U.S. before being deported” KBI.

What is the focus of KBI?

We are a binational humanitarian organization with locations in Nogales, AZ and Nogales, Sonora, Mexico. We do advocacy on both sides of the border trying to promote dignity and justice for the individuals that we serve.

Our focus is on humanitarian aid to recently deported migrants and to people who are in transit to Central America. We also offer education courses to the public. Our visitors include high schools, parishes and universities. Sometimes individuals, media visitors, and researchers are interested in learning, first-hand, what migrants go through after deportation, or on their way to the U.S.

Kino Border Initiative-Comedor. Photo courtesy KBI Facebook page.

What is the procedure for setting up a visit with Kino Border?

I’m the contact person for that and we would set it up depending on the type of visit. For writers, for example, we would offer a research visit. We would ask you to submit a brief proposal of what you hope to accomplish with your time with us. We can look at dates and possibilities.

Where would visitors stay?

Visitors have to seek out their own lodging.

What can a visitor gain as a life experience?

The main focus is for visitors to meet with people who have been affected by migration policy. So, we like to emphasize the word, Humanize.

Community Members and KBI Join Hands to do Outreach and Humanize the Border. Photo KBI Facebook.

The immigration question has been talked about in the abstract, but our focus is on getting a chance to interact with recently deported migrants and hear from them their perspectives.

When migrants visit the Kino Border Initiative, what are their most urgent needs?

Many people are on their way to either South or Central Mexico. Others may try to cross the border again. Individuals make different choices. Usually when they arrive, they are in need of humanitarian assistance: food, clothes, toiletries, medical care. We provide these out of our aid center.

Kino Border Initiative. Praying for a safe passage and giving thanks for a meal. Photo courtesy, KBI Facebook page.

Do you offer lodging to migrants?

We have a shelter for women and children and the men stay in the men’s shelter called, San Juan Bosco in Sonora, Mexico.

How long can they stay?

Our rule is one week, but we can be flexible and we do case by case evaluations.

Photo Courtesy KBI. Facebook Page.

How do Migrants Learn of Kino Border Initiative?

When they are deported, Mexican immigration will receive them and let them know about our aid center. Lots of times, they will bring them over to our aid center. Our organization is called the Kino Border Initiative, but the place where we give aid is through our aid center or the comedor, our dinning hall.

Volunteers Bring Homemade Food and Serve it with Love and Affection. Photo courtesy KBI Facebook.

Who coordinates migrant education outreach in Mexico?

Engracia Robles is our coordinator of education in Mexico. She is part of our education team. In addition to welcoming visitors, we also give workshops and presentations that focus on the humanitarian crisis along the U.S.-Mexico border. We talk about the harsh realities of undocumented immigration and we offer workshop attendees an opportunity to share their views and ask questions.

Sister Engracia teaches about the border crisis to college students. KBI Facebook page.

Engracia is at the comedor every day and she oversees the Rights Education of the Migrants. She informs migrants of their rights, and when those rights have been violated, she documents human rights violations. She also gives radio talks and makes parish visits to inform the community.

KBI Celebrates Engracia’s daily contributions to the migrant community. Photo Courtesy, Kino Border Facebook page.

Joanna, how did you get involved?

I was a student at Georgetown University, which is a Jesuit University. That’s when I first heard about the Kino Border Initiative. That was a few years ago now. I came as a volunteer in 2011, and now, I work there.

What drove you to stay?

As a volunteer, I helped out in the Aid Center and in the Women’s Center. I decided to stay because I was so compelled by people’s experiences. Volunteering gave me an opportunity to learn about other’s stories.

What about funding? Who helps you provide food, clothes, aid and outreach?

We are supported through the generosity of individuals. We exist to make sure that human dignity is respected. We are here to advocate among those who are the most vulnerable — migrant women, men and children. In the US and Mexico we get a little bit of funding from grants and from the Jesuits, but mostly from individual donations.

Tell us about your Border Immersion Experiences. What can one learn from these?

If you would like to know what it’s like to be deported and in transition; if you would like to meet migrants who have been through the process and gain a deeper personal perspective on the border and immigration, KBI offers immersion experiences ranging from 3–5 days and shorter visits are also possible.

The immersion experience includes time in the comedor or soup kitchen where you will serve food and speak with recently deported migrants.

Your trip will also include a visit to the women’s shelter, a walk in the desert, an opportunity to partake in mass and a chance to converse with ranchers in a rural town in Southern Arizona. The visits also include a visit to the criminal prosecution center of immigrants in Tucson, AZ.

What you will learn on this trip

A chance to Humanize the immigration question and to understand its many layers. The trip makes time for reflection; a day to reflect on the immigrant experience.

KBI addresses the humanitarian crisis along the US Mexico border. We address the causes and explore possible solutions to the harsh realities of undocumented immigration. During our workshops, we offer opportunities for attendees to share their views on immigrants and immigration.

To learn about KBI’s response to Trump’s Executive Order click here.

Kino Border has a wish list.

To plan a Border Immersion Experience, or to learn more, contact Joanna Williams jwilliams@kinoborderinitiative.org (520) 287–2370.