Margie Carroll, Regional Director of the Ignatian Volunteer Corps in San Diego was my travel companion to and from Nogales, last November. We were met in Nogales by Frank Barrios, Steve Jenkins and Walt Gray of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul in Phoenix. After dropping off donations of clothing and toiletries at the KBI office on the U.S. side and greeting Father Sean Carroll, S.J., we parked at the border and walked across to the KBI's dining room (ComDep) for deportees. We saw huge trucks everywhere and were told that Nogales is the port of entry for 25% of produce consumed in the U.S. The trucks are inspected in various ways including by x-ray and drug-sniffing dogs. Fr. Pete Neeley, S.J. was our excellent guide for the day.
We began by serving to the deported a breakfast of beans, scrambled eggs, meat and rice washed down with gallons of hot coffee. The dining room is extremely simple - cement floors, corrugated roof. The sides are composed of brightly painted drop down tarps. The deportees were courteous, grateful and generally cheerful, largely young men although there was one table of young women. Since my first visit nearly 3 years ago, the KBI has added a small but highly efficient kitchen, bathrooms and additional refrigeration. About half of the time, meals are provided by local churches and non-profits on both sides of the border. Other days, meals are prepared by Sister Lorena and the other sisters. This is a huge task done 365 days a year with an average of 150 meals served twice daily. Deportees must present paperwork issued by the Mexican government validating deportation from the U.S. on a certain date - they can eat for 15 days at the ComDep while figuring out what to do, where to go. (Current government policy, is to deport people far from where they were caught by Border Patrol - if you were detained in Texas, you could be deported in AZ or CA, for example. Families are often split up in the process). After breakfast, Good Samaritans, a group from Green Valley arrived with clothing to be sorted and offered to those in need.
Father Pete took us across the street and up the hill to the public housing where KBI rents several apartments - some as a shelter for women and children run by the sisters, others are for visiting scholars and at least one is for storage. One of the sisters presented a Power Point featuring information collected by staff from the women guests - Margie included many of the slides - poignant in the percentage of women who have left children behind in Mexico or in the U.S. Our next stop was the local cemetery still very gaily decorated for the Mexican celebration "Day of the Dead". The cemetery is where many of the deported men sleep - the local shelter is almost always filled. Beyond the cemetery we found the Kino Border Initiative First Aid Station - very clean and well-stocked but some distance from the ComDep.
Next, onto a local bus that took us into downtown Nogales, Sonora (pop. 200,000 as compared to Nogales, AZ pop. 20,000). Every seat was taken and the ride was very bumpy. We exited near Leo's restaurant, our destination for lunch. After lunch we walked around the streets noting that shops were either “farmacias” or “dentistas”. The thriving tourist trade disappeared after 9/11, which created delays at the border and there is fear of gangs and the drug cartels. The "new" border fence (high rusty bars) did not look particularly intimidating, but Fr. Pete told us the bars go 10 feet into the ground.
Back on the local bus, we returned to the ComDep for water and to help serve dinner. Dinner was soup and tortillas. It arrived late because the family providing the food had been in a car accident en route, but it did arrive!
It was time for us to walk back across the border (we entered and departed Mexico via a large port of entry designed for trucks - faster for pedestrians). We were surprised to look up and see footprints (adult and child) pressed into the new concrete walls as a design motif (the footprints were running from Mexico toward the U.S....). We were tired and quiet - thinking of the young man fighting back tears (15-16 years old) who had just been deported from Alabama or the 30 year old from Los Angeles who had lived in the U.S. most of his life and spoke perfect English. He was deported leaving a wife and two children behind and because of multiple attempts to re-enter the U.S. illegally, is now considered a felon. He would fit the profile of the average deportee based on KBI data - early 30's and average time living in the U.S. of 9 1/2 years.
The photographs at the link below were taken by Margie Carroll. If you wish, click on "slideshow" to roll quickly through the 269 photographs. They will give you a sense of the border and of the KBI [Note that the first 20 pictures relate to St. Xavier Mission in the Tohono O’Odham Reservation and the last 35 pictures relate to Tumacacori Mission (in ruin); both Missions, founded in the late 1600 By the Father Eusebio Chini, S.J., are just south of Tucson]:
See brief KBI documentaries at: