Tuesday, March 10, 2015

My experience of migration on the northern Mexico border

~a guest post by Paloma Patlán, Student of International Relations at the Jesuit University of Guadalajara. 

Paloma Patlán at the KBI's Migrant Assistance Center 
Before serving breakfast in the comedor for the Kino Border Initiative, located on the border between Sonora and Arizona; my partner Bernadette Eguía gives a brief talk on Human Rights to the diners. After this, some raise their hand, seem baffled and outraged. A man shares his anguish at being separated from his family, now being deported after living 18 years in the US. He doesn't know what he'll do in Mexico, his country:
"They threw me out like a criminal. And if anyone has stolen anything, it was them. I gave them all my working life. And what grieves me most is my family that's left behind on the other side, my children." 
The comedor's cook Lupita, after leading grace before the meal, hopes the food she's prepared for these men and women will give them strength and health to continue on their journeys. In this place they can relax a little, feel safe and not violated, forget some of their worries and concerns--or at least feel listened to and share some encouragement.

Those of us who work here are aware that many of the human rights shared in that presentation haven't been respected. But it's important that they know their rights so that they can demand them. And it's the least we can do. Every day brings people sharing experiences of violations of integrity. It's not the same to read stories on paper as it is to listen to the voices of men and women who migrate under vulnerable conditions or who suffer family separation due to immigration policies.

My experience here is enriching to me as a student of International Relations. A bi-national project of the US and Mexico, Kino Border Initiative's work is a clear example of how civil society, concerned about a situation that involves both nations, can combine in a collaborative effort to encourage immigration policies that respect human dignity.

In addition to providing humanitarian assistance, Kino Border Initiative directly accompanies migrant men and women. And this aspect is the most rewarding experience. The issue of migration is very complex. In Mexico it's been problematic due to structural factors and analyses of various areas and fields of study. But, to listen to the migrants is to understand and to literally see in their eyes

  • the sadness of having to leave their loved ones, 
  • the illusion of having better opportunities somewhere else, 
  • the frustration and fear of not feeling protected by the State in their journey and in their lives in Mexico. 

There is so much concern on their faces, as if migration was a crime. And what's rough is that they have to risk their lives in the journey and live with so much uncertainty. As a society, we should understand that it's human nature to seek out better opportunities and to take care of one's own family. Really understanding this will be easier than the struggle to punish those who do so--as though they were criminals. They're guilty only of being human beings in a situation that risks their life and well being.
What a gift it is to know and work with Paloma and her coworker Bernie at the KBI! These two young women bring me hope. I see in them leadership and commitment to join with others to work toward a more just and compassionate world. I did the translation from the original Spanish and some minor editing/formatting of this piece. Thanks, Paloma, for writing it and for letting me publish it on this blog! ~Billie