EL COMEDOR/ KINO BORDER INITIATIVE COMMUNITY CENTER: Nogales, Sonora
It's a cold, rainy morning the first Wednesday of February. I along with two other Samaritans are walking through the customs station at Mariposa, Nogales, Arizona on our way to the Comedor right across the border in Mexico.
The Comedor is totally full of people - families with children, a row of tables of men, women and children being served cups of steaming hot chocolate while they wait for breakfast. The Comedor holds about 80 people and it's full this morning. The coordinator explains how food will be served and asks if there are any special diet needs.
Then, all the volunteers go to work - passing plates of scrambled eggs, creamy beans, macaroni and rice and of course, lots of tortillas. There are seconds as well. Once the first group is fed, other families enter and fill two more rows of tables - I estimate about 120 people today.
Once the tables are cleared, the guests organize into a line of dishwashers, scraping food into the garbage and then drying the dishes and cups. The place is humming with activity. The coordinator explains that those seeking to cross and ask for asylum should gather at the back with the lawyers from the Florence Immigrant and Refugee Project - a large group moves to those tables.
The medical center - another table with medical supplies is immediately busy. A Comedor volunteer, Juan, takes down the names of people who are waiting to have a check cashed, to make an international call home or to see the medical assistant. The USA detention centers pay detainees with a U.S. check before they are deported. No More Deaths, a Tucson based NGO, provides cash for the check and then deposits the check into its account.
I am the cell phone person today. I ask for the number and country to which a call is being made. I try not to listen to the conversations to a father in Honduras or a mother in Guatemala. 10 calls today - Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador and one to a friend in Colorado. These are calls to reassure loved ones that the person is ok.
One young man is curious about who we are and why we are here. I explain that we are volunteers supporting people waiting to cross or those just deported. He is young, tall and in good shape. In a lowered voice he says, "I'm a policeman from Honduras. The drug cartels killed my younger brother. I am a danger to my family so I fled."
I suggest that he talk with the lawyer about his situation but silently I think as a single young man, his chances for asylum are slim. He talks with the other volunteer cashing checks. Both of us have grey hair and could be his abuela/grandmother. He asks about his chances of crossing the desert. I walk over to a photo pinned to the wall that shows how much water he would have to carry and how many days to reach Tucson.
At the bottom of the poster, it says in Spanish: No Vale la Pena, It's not worth it. Don't go! There's not enough water. The red dots on the map are dead bodies found in the desert.
"But I'm in good shape, I can make it." I look at him sadly. "Mire/look, as your grandmother, I would rather see you held in a detention center for a month or two than Dead." He shakes his head trying to decide what is best to do. HIs mother and sister live in Texas.
The other person that remain in my mind still is a family of father, mother and three young children. They are from Guerrero, Mexico. The mother explains that they had a small business, but the drug cartels asked for money - extorting them in order to keep their business open. When they didn't pay, they threatened to kill her first and then, all the children. Tears form in her eyes, "Will they let me husband cross with me?" I don't reply but urge her to talk to the lawyer.
The lawyers explain to me that they cannot offer specific legal advice to the asylum seekers as they are not licensed to practice law in Mexico. They give general advice about how to register for asylum. It is bad news for single men, and for families. The Border Patrol and Customs agents let mothers and children in but usually not the father. Another form of family separation. At least they get advice on what asylum seekers should do.
I talk with an Episcopal deacon, Roger, who is with a new organization, Cruzando Fronteras, that supports about five shelters in Nogales, Sonora that house families and women and children who are waiting for their turn to cross. I ask how many days? He shakes his head. "A week? Sometimes, two weeks." A new caravan has arrived at Agua Prieta across from Douglas, Arizona. There are not enough customs agents there so the people are being bused to Nogales. He heard that only two families were processed yesterday.
Despite the challenges that all the Comedor guests face, it is not a sad place. Children play while they wait for their parents. Fathers keep an eye on their sons. Jokes are made - "oh, he's tall for a Guatemalan, he probably will play basketball in the USA!"
I don't know what will happen to any of these families or those just deported. A Kino Border Initiative staff person says that they are working to open a new center where they will provide job training and support for deportees to stay in Nogales so that their USA families can visit them.
This NPR Program is a story from this KBI staff person explaining why people are traveling together and why they are not going to stop traveling north.
REFLECTION: With the recent action by #45 to reallocate funds to build the wall, only time and struggle and resistance from us all will determine the future of the immigrant families and single men and women seeking safety. Join any of the groups that are suing the President over the illegality of his actions. I am proud that my state of Oregon is one of 16 states suing him. RESIST with RESILIENCE.
My life has been about crossing borders and cultures and building bridges across the boundaries that normally divide. Have you crossed any borders in your life?