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A Trip to the Desert: Learning To Serve and Welcome the Stranger

Posted on June 1, 2018, by Loretto Community

The St. Joan of Arc ‘Welcome the Stranger’ group and Juana, Women’s United Cooperative, HEPAC, gather in Nogales, Mexico. (Photo courtesy of Rosa Lizarde)

By Rosa Lizarde

Every border trip is different, and the one this past May to Nogales, Ariz., and Mexico with the Minneapolis-based St. Joan of Arc Church was truly unique. Each border trip offers the opportunity to extend financial support and supplies to migrants. Equally as significant, they offer the participant an unfiltered view of the migrant experience. The May border trip was the second with the St. Joan of Arc’s “Welcome the Stranger” group. We kicked off the trip at the Federal Courthouse to witness the sentencing of undocumented migrants being processed under Operation Streamline. A significant change was that migrants before the judge were not shackled and handcuffed. A lawsuit won by the American Civil Liberties Union in 2017 held that the fundamental right to be free from unwarranted restraints was protected by the Fifth Amendment.

We crossed into Nogales, Mexico, the next day at the Deconcini Border Crossing walking directly to the memorial of Jose Antonio Elena Rodriguez, the Mexican teen killed by a border patrol agent in 2012 and said to be among a group throwing rocks across the wall. This past April a jury found the border patrol agent not guilty of second-degree murder. The next stop was at Grupo Beta, a government office for migrants which provides administrative, medical and transport support. It was there that we met Lorenzo, who had just been deported after 14 years in the United States. He struggled to hold back tears when telling us his wife and special needs child are still in the United States.

The Home of Hope and Peace (HEPAC), a community center for children and families in a colonia on the periphery of Nogales, is a regular stop for a tour and lunch. HEPAC serves lunch to more than 100 school children and houses the Women United Cooperative. It also provides classes for 120 adults to complete their school diplomas. Following HEPAC we stopped at Taller Yonke, or Shop of Junk, yonke being an Anglicism of junk. It was founded in 2006 by artists Guadalupe Serrano and Alberto Morackis and re-purposes scrap metal to create border art. It gained international recognition with the creation of the sculpture, “Border Dynamics” currently at the University of Arizona.

Migrant shelter Albergue San Juan Bosco is best visited in the evening when migrants return for dinner, chapel time and sleep. While migrants are given a three-night maximum stay, they do make exceptions, like the one given to Fernando, a 19-year-old from Honduras who fell under “The Beast,” a train traveling through Mexico, and lost a foot. At the evening sharing, we met up again with Lorenzo. He and three men shared stories of their detainment and deportation, each breaking down as they told of striving for the now elusive “American Dream.”

For the final day, we appreciated being joined by Mary Jean Friel, of the Latin America Caribbean Committee and a longtime border trip organizer. Our desert walk with “No More Deaths” founder Jim Marks proved to be intense. While we put out water bottles for migrants, we found one woman’s shoe in the dry riverbed. Afterward, we listened to People Helping People volunteer Carlota Rey on the importance of having community and Peg Bowden, author of A Land of Hard Edges: Serving the Front Lines of the Border. We ended our trip with a sharing on how we can continue to welcome the stranger back home.

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