By Joshua Francia
Seven Loyola students, two Loyola parents and Administrative Assistant of Student Activities Pat Salvaty travelled to Arizona over Thanksgiving break to experience first-hand the lives of undocumented immigrants under the leadership of the Kino Border Initiative.
The KBI started in 2009 when six organizations came together to aid deported immigrants in US-Mexico border town Nogales. According to KBI’s mission statement, the organization’s goals are to uphold the human dignity of migrants by offering them basic necessities such as food, clothing, bus tokens, legal assistance and housing. The KBI is a non-profit organization that receives support from donations and volunteers.
Under the guidance of the KBI, volunteers from various high schools and colleges have gone to the Arizona-Mexico border to experience the conditions under which many undocumented immigrants live and the hardships they endure.
In 2014, Andrew Perez ’16 established the Loyola Kino Club, which sponsors food and clothing drives and encourages volunteers to participate in one of the KBI opportunities.
The Loyola volunteer group lodged in a guest house during their stay. Assistant Director of Education at KBI the Rev. Fr. Peter Neeley, S.J., supervises the education program and conducts presentations that show the stark realities of the immigration issues.
Community Service Director Tom Zeko said, “The education part is where we come in. I’ve been down there twice and participated in their educational program, and we’re not talking about sitting in a classroom. What they do is a simulation of what it is like to be an undocumented person trying to get across the border.”
One of the activities that the Loyola group did included helping at the comedor, the dining hall that is run by KBI on the Mexican side of the border. They served food to the migrants, listened to their stories and experiences of adversity and assisted them with medical needs.
Salvaty said, “Serving [migrants]and listening to them with interest and concern helped assuage their fears for a few brief minutes and let them know that others care about them. The migrants in the comedor showed great appreciation for [the students’]help and willingly spoke to them and seemed to appreciate that they were doing their best to understand them and communicate as best they could in Spanish and English.”
Many of the migrants arrive with foot issues due to the lack of adequate footwear, and the Loyola students were able to help by providing bandages and antibiotics.
The students also hiked the same trail many migrants travel to get a feel of what the migrants undergo. Students found personal belongings left behind by migrants on the trail.
Junior Kevin Kim, who volunteered for the KBI over Thanksgiving break, said, “I originally went on this trip to find out what the big deal with immigration and border safety was; there has always been significant debate about whether migration was really necessary, and I wanted to find out for myself if the huge debate about immigration was properly warranted.”
“After the experience, I’ve come to realize that migration for these people is pivotal to their survival, and hopefully the government and the migrants can meet halfway and find a solution,” said Kim.