Tag Archives: migrant

Nuggets of Knowledge

On our first day back in the classroom we watched and transcribed the interviews from the various people we met along our journey. It struck me that we had met and interacted with a variety of very knowledgeable people who were clearly passionate about migration. We were told to search for little “nuggets” of the interviews that really packed a punch. It became clear pretty quickly that we didn’t need to do much digging because we had hit the jackpot. We were in a goldmine of succinct, well-spoken ideas that really struck a chord with the interviewee. Here are just a few of my favorite “nuggets” of knowledge from the trip.

“The only law is love your neighbor. You tell me how putting up a wall is loving your neighbor. You tell me how deporting women and children back to a place where we know they will be killed is loving your neighbor. It may be loving yourself because you want to hold onto your thing. But we are making decision based on material things not on human beings and that is no way, shape or form something that we can tolerate as American citizens.” – Rev. Peter Neeley, S.J., Assistant Director of Education at KBI

Group picture of Backpack journalism crew and Daniela Vargas
The Backpack Journalidm group with Daniela Vargas outside our home away from home.

“When you stop asking questions, that’s when something’s wrong because you’ve become complacent with the situation. But when you continue to ask the question: ‘Why is this happening?’ I think that continues to change perspectives.” – Daniela Vargas, KBI volunteer

“Because you are made in the image and likeness of God, you have inherent dignity. As a human being, you have dignity, you have certain rights. These aren’t rights that a government can give or take away. These are your rights because you are you, just because you were born, just because God created you.” –Joanna Williams, Director of Education at KBI

“Migrants as the human person have something to teach us. And yet, they are marginalized. They are pushed aside, they are not seen, they are not heard, they are not valued, the are pushed outside.”Rev. Sean Carroll, Executive Director at KBI

Maria talking with Isabel Garcia.

“It’s what we really do to the least of us that defines us.” – Isabel Garcia, Immigration lawyer

“It’s a lot of suffering. One suffers a lot. there are people who say ‘Oh, it doesn’t matter. He’s illegal,’ or this or that. But there’s people like me who do it for their families, for their brothers, for their kids. We are all taking this journey, and this is a journey where a lot of people fail and are left behind.” – Jose “Pepe” Guillen, deported migrant

“Many of these people who have decided to take on this migrant journey are not doing it because they want to, they’re doing it because they have to. Part of the need also is the dream, and the dream is that someday they will be able to provide for their families what they’re currently not able to provide and give to them.” Daniela Vargas, KBI volunteer, daughter of migrant

Natalia performing at the Commodor for migrants who were recently deported. She invited them to sing along with her and their spirits were immediately lifted.
Natalia performing at the Commodor for migrants who were recently deported.

“Make a friend on the border. I think you’ll learn so much more about the border by knowing a person in depth than you will a concept and having to read a lot about it.” – Natalia Serna, Singer/songwriter

“What gives me hope? That’s a hard question to answer. I have faith that the goodness of God is stronger than any greed or any desire for money in this world. We have to do the little bit we can every day with faith and hope. And more than anything, what gives me hope is the faith of the migrants. A faith that doesn’t fade even against everything they have been through.” – Sister Maria Engracia Robles Robles, M.E., Education/Advocacy at KBI


Lil John showing us the migrant trail.
John showing us the migrant trail.

“The wall that’s a few miles from here would not be there if there weren’t walls between our ears. We have walls. We’ve built walls. We don’t even know they are there, cultural walls. And until those walls are taken down, the other ones won’t fall. They will someday, those walls are coming down. But the ones that put them there in the first place have to come down first.” – John Heidt, Activist

Branded as a Criminal

Growing up I was always taught the moral wrongness of putting people into categories. That a person’s race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, economic class, or political orientation should not determine how you treat them.

Yet those who have committed a crime were never included on that list.

No one really discusses the rights of “criminals” and this is coming from someone who was raised by two lawyers. America as a whole has not yet come to a conclusion about the rights of those charged with a criminal offense. Yes, you have a right to an attorney, you are free from cruel and unusual punishment, you are free from double jeopardy, and so on, but then what? What rights do you have in jail and then which ones are afforded to you when you leave? Even the interpretation of the criminal justice amendments in the Bill of Rights are still debated in American politics, especially when charging those who are not U.S. citizens.

This ability to be so vague about the rights of those convicted of a crime allows for those found guilty to easily be put into categories. They are categorized as a criminal, a term with the connotation that they are dangerous and useless in society. Being a criminal is truly a scarlet letter today in America.

This fear of the “criminal” is used by the American government surrounding migration into the United States through the Mexican/ American border. First, by creating the image that these migrants are criminals. When migrants are caught they are charged with a criminal offense (while many other countries handle this offense administratively). Migrants are put in jails or detainment centers. When they are deported both their hands and feet are shackled. The entire process creates the image that people who have crossed the border illegally are criminals and in association bad for both American society and wherever they are deported to.

This visual categorization of migrants as criminals allows for them to be dehumanized because criminals are perceived as less than in society. However, like all categorizations, this is not a truthful portrayal. Many migrants are forced to look for a better life due to extreme violence and poverty. Like Father Peter Neeley said in his interview no one wants to migrate unless they have to.

Migrants are not criminals and they should not be treated like a danger to society. Just like any category, some fit into the stereotype prescribed to them, but most do not. There is no reason to brand these people. They are humans, with families, and unique backgrounds. This is why it is so important to put a face to an issue. We have no right to put anyone in a category as a way to simplify an issue, that is not justice.

Giving a Face to Migration

Today is Monday, the 23rd of May. We met Joanna, director of education and advocacy at the Kino Border Initiative. She led us into our first experience of crossing the border into Mexico.

We parked our vans a couple of blocks outside of the border. After walking for about five minutes, we came upon what looked like a steel, caged walkway. Joanna informed us that this walkway will be used in the future as an entrance for migrants being deported back to Mexico. I was shocked at how much it resembled a cattle chute. The path we took into Mexico was a sidewalk that followed right along side of the caged walkway.

We walked beside the caged runway for about 200 yards (two football fields) and got into Mexico without anyone flinching or checking our passports.

I was already hot and irritated with the rocks that kept getting into my shoes.

But the migrants had to do this trek from within a cage. I can’t fathom what they could possibly be feeling during this very public walk of shame. These people had left their homes out of fear to search for safety. They have been in the desert for who knows how long without the proper basic resources such as food and water. When Border Patrol detains them, they are in terrible condition. The humiliation must be traumatizing to be shackled by the hands and feet. They get dropped off in the same dusty, sweat filled clothes that they started their pilgrimage in. Once they are uncuffed, they are told to walk through a cage into a city they have never been to.

I cannot begin to imagine the horror and vulnerability that these people face.

One of the Kino Border Initiative‘s missions is to work towards humane migration. This becomes a huge challenge when news outlets, politicians and government officials are constantly criminalizing migrants and refugees. I admit that I have fallen victim to this power of repetition that sees migrants as criminals rather than as individual lives seeking something better. After today, my eyes have been opened and my life has been changed. My hope is to help those who aren’t fortunate to have the experiences that we are having. I want to give a face to the migrant instead of seeing a group of criminals. No matter your political views, I hope that you can at least realize that all humans have inherent rights and dignity.

“When you devalue one human life, you devalue all human life.”