BY GUEST BLOGGER | June 15, 2015
written by: Elizabeth Vasile, 14-15 Jesuit Volunteer | Tucson, Arizona
Editor’s Note: A version of this post was originally published on Elizabeth’s blog entitled A Year Among the Saguaros
“Why can’t they just wait in line?” That is a question I always asked myself when talking about immigration from Central America and Mexico. Being from New York, the issue of immigration is easily swept under the rug. The little knowledge I had on the issue came from the news. My mother is an immigrant from Cuba, so most of my knowledge comes from a very conservative standpoint. It wasn’t until my year with Jesuit Volunteer Corp (JVC) that I realized how ignorant I have been for my whole life.
This past month, I went to Nogales, Arizona and Nogales Sonora, Mexico, with my community and the Albuquerque JV community on a border immersion trip set up by our program coordinator. Through this trip, we experienced the issue of migration first-hand through the Kino Border Initiative (KBI), a Jesuit-run, binational organization focused on the issues of migration.
Our first day at the border, we walked across into Nogales Sonora, Mexico and visited Kino’s “El Comedor,” a place where recently deported migrants can come for a hot meal twice per day and receive medical and financial assistance.
When migrants are detained by U.S. Border Patrol, everything is taken from them. Any money taken by Border Patrol is returned upon deportation, but in the form of a check that cannot be cashed in Mexico, making them useless and leaving migrants with nothing. Often migrants are missing necessary paper documents like IDs.
We served two meals that day at El Comedor. I noticed there was no medical personnel that day, so I offered my EMT knowledge to Thomas, our Jesuit tour guide for the day. With the Spanish translation help of Karina, a native speaker and a JV in the Albuquerque house, I distributed pain medicine to two men and bandaged and wrapped the feet of another. The image of this migrant’s feet is something that will never leave my mind. They were covered in blisters and callouses. He had at least three ingrown nails. It was a very real depiction of what people go through to seek a better life in the United States.
Between meals Thomas brought us to a shelter for recently deported women and children. There, again with Karina translating, we spoke to one of the women. She had lived with her husband and two daughters in Florida for several years, when she got news that her mother in Mexico was sick. She began sending money to help her mother in Mexico. Although leaving her family to return to her ailing mother was risky, she decided to go.
When she arrived in Mexico, she found out that someone else was pocketing the money she had been sending to help her mother and she lost a lot of money. After a few weeks with her mother, she decided to return to the U.S., where she was arrested, detained, and deported. She is now separated from her husband and children in Florida while her family in Mexico will not help her because they believe she abandoned them by moving to the United States.
We cried with her and her story shocked us. Through tears, she shared her gratitude for the bright future her daughters have in the United States and grateful for the people at El Comedor and the women’s shelter for welcoming her and for helping her get back on her feet in Mexico.
The following day, we hiked the migrant trails through the desert and to the border with a group called the Samaritans. We hiked 3.5 miles before dropping food bags and water at the border for traveling migrants. We learned that it is about a two-day walk from where we were in Nogales to this point of the border. Here we could really see how militarized the US-Mexico Border is.
Fr. Pete Neeley, S.J., assistant director of education for KBI, told us the best thing we could do to help the issue of migration is tell people what we saw, tell stories about the people we met, and tell them how this isn’t a political issue but a humanitarian issue.
Since then, I have faced a lot of tension and resistance when relaying my experiences to my family and friends back in the Northeast. The people who are so desperate to come to the United States are in no way living a comfortable life. They are desperate. They are also some of the strongest people I have ever met. With this new, first-hand knowledge and experience, my answer to the question, “Why can’t they just wait in line?” is this: if they could, they would, and since they can’t, as fellow human beings, we need to reach out and help them.