The Kino Border Initiative: between United States and Mexico
Mark Potter (CFN)
For the past decade, the US has experienced a crisis about border security and immigration policy - with a particular question about what to do with the 11 million immigrants who live and work in the shadows of the U.S. economy without proper documentation or legal protection. In the California province, every Jesuit ministry is directly affected by the crisis in immigration policy. All our apostolic communities include people who lack proper documentation and so live in fear of being deported.
In 2009, the province announced its investment in the Kino Border Initiative (KBI) - a collaborative ministry at the border in partnership with the Mexico Province, the Missionary Sisters of the Eucharist, Jesuit Refugee Service USA, and the two Catholic dioceses separated by the US/Mexico in southern Arizona and northern Hermosillo, Mexico. Our collective hope was that the KBI might provide a concrete point of contact at the US/Mexico border that could serve as a place of binational, collaborative accompaniment, reflection, and analysis regarding the crisis in border policy and immigration reform.
KBI's most visible work is providing humanitarian assistance to migrants as they are deported from the US, specifically at a comedor, where deported persons can eat two hot, nutritious meals each day, as well as receive basic medical attention, clothing, and the opportunity to telephone their families. The KBI also provides Casa Nazaret, a shelter for women and children, a safe place for them to live and begin to the process of healing from the traumas they have experienced.
Our ministry to the deported migrants is an opportunity to exercise solidarity with people who are suffering, to recognize and grow closer to Christ in breaking bread with one another. The Missionary Sisters of the Eucharist, members of a small Mexican congregation of extraordinarily generous and compassionate women, administer the comedor and shelter, and they do so with remarkable strength, tenderness, compassion. In addition to meeting the immediate needs of the migrants, the sisters engage in conscientization with the migrants about human rights, racism, and sexism.
As you might imagine, the migrants also have much to offer the staff and volunteers of the KBI. Because the process of deportation is such a raw and traumatic experience, many layers of pretense and pride have been stripped away. What's left is the human person at its most vulnerable and, frequently, most beautiful. The migrants speak of their love for family members from whom they have been separated; the basic motivations that compelled them to risk the perilous journey - fleeing violence, seeking economic opportunity for their families, striving to be reunited with a loved one who had preceded them in crossing over; and their faith in God and basic trust in God's kingdom that enables them to persevere.
The effect of their testimonies upon the staff and volunteers at the KBI is impossible to measure, as the migrants provide ever-deeper insights into the basic capacities of the human condition - for vulnerability, generosity, faith, and endurance. In short, the KBI has quickly become a place of mutual transformation.
One very important aspect of this context of mutual transformation that I'd like to highlight is the impact the ministry has upon the Society of Jesus itself - upon the formation of Jesuits who are or who will be leaders in Jesuit works around the world. The KBI is constantly hosting short and long-term visits from Jesuits in formation. The Mexican province sends pre-novices to the KBI live and work for a year as they discern their vocation to the Society of Jesus. Many novices and scholastics from throughout the US have been sent to the KBI on experiments lasting from a few days to several weeks.
This year, the California & Oregon provinces have sent two regents to work alongside the volunteers and sisters who staff the comedor. Jesuits in their tertianship have spent many months at the KBI, to say nothing of the Jesuits who choose to spend an active sabbatical or retreat living and working within the dynamic context of this extraordinary and collaborative ministry.
One of the resolutions I made at the beginning of this new year has been to be more attentive to the reciprocal impact of the social ministries efforts within the Oregon & California provinces of the US. At the Kino Border Initiative, the Society of Jesus is being impacted on a daily basis in humility, generosity, faith, and service. The migrants have become formatores, helping to strip away layers of pride and pretense that so often accumulate in a culture that distances itself from the realities of death and isolation. My prayer is that this experience makes the Society of Jesus more attentive to its mission, and more able to participate in the coming of God's Kingdom.