An Opportunity To Welcome Migrants At The Border, Says Kino Border Initiative Director

Apr 7, 2021

The Kino Border Initiative is a Catholic binational organization that provides humanitarian aid and advocates for migrants in Nogales, Sonora, Mexico.  It's run by priests of the Society of Jesus order, also known as Jesuits, along with lay, or non clergy, staff.


Like Yuma, Nogales is also seeing an increase in the number of migrants encountered by Border Patrol.  


KAWC’s Victor Calderón spoke with the organization's executive director, Joanna Williams, about what migrants say are their reasons for making the journey to the United States border.



"I can't think of a single migrant who's told me they've come because of (President Joe) Biden," Williams said. "It's just not the language people are using specifically."


Williams said the push factors for migrants has remained the same for years- poverty, gang violence and for some, natural disasters, such as hurricanes. The number of migrants coming to the U.S.-Mexico border in 2020 was down significantly, understandably due to the global COVID-19 pandemic.


"What I think we're seeing (now with more migrants) is a pent-up demand," Williams said. "Pent up migration that would have been spread out over several months but instead is being a little more concentrated in this year."


Republican Arizona elected officials, including Gov. Doug Ducey and U.S. Rep. Paul Gosar have visited the border in recent weeks, Ducey in Douglas and Gosar in Yuma. They say what's happening at the border, with thousands of migrants, including unaccompanied children, from south Texas to Southern California is a "crisis" due to President Biden rolling back immigration policies of the previous administration.

Williams said she doesn't see it that way.

"We have to recognize the extraordinary work of community organizations," she said. "People of good faith or goodwill in Phoenix, Tucson and Yuma are doing what they can to welcome folks and make access to the (asylum) system possible."

"It's hard for us to use the 'crisis' language, especially for us as a Catholic organization," Williams said. "It would undervalue the opportunity that this is. This is an opportunity to welcome (migrants)."

Migrants would like to be able to present themselves and their children for asylum at ports of entry, Williams said, but it has been more than one year since the pandemic has shut that option down to them.

Williams said the U.S. needs to reexamine its approach at the border. 

"We are border communities," she said. "We're interconnected in San Luis Rio Colorado and Yuma (County), in Nogales (Mexico) and Nogales (Arizona)."

"We're interconnected spaces and we need the dynamism of those crossings," Williams said. "There are ways we can respect that and lift that up that promotes the rights and dignity of border residents as well as those of migrants."