Eight St. Philip’s Border and Immigration Ministry members and two friends spent the day February 2 on a Cross-Border Tour to Nogales, Sonora, sponsored by the American not-for-profit Santa Cruz Community Foundation (SCCF) and the Mexican organization Fundacion del Empresariado, Sonorense A.C. (FESAC)., These two organizations have a unique international partnership that identifies current and emerging issues and mobilizes and strengthens community resources to solve these issues. Our tour guides for the day were Bob Philips, Executive Director of SCCF, Bill Neubauer, Chairman of the SCCF board, and Alma Cota de Yanez, Exectuve Director of FESAC.
We arrived in Nogales, AZ early (8:30 a.m.) so that we could visit (while breakfast was being served) the Kino Border Initiative comidor which provides two meals daily to recently deported immigrants. Walking to the border crossing, we saw a bus full of deportees whose few belongings (held in plastic bags) were being unloaded from the bus while the deportees were still chained onboard. We visitors boarded a small bus and were driven to the comidor while those same deportees made their way slowly on foot to the same destination. There were 137 people served that morning, 20% of them women and children. Father Sean Carroll, S.J., Executive Director of KBI, told us that the comidor served 58,600 meals in 2012. Deportees can be served meals for up to fifteen days before they are required to move on. KBI also has a small shelter for women and children and a first aid station. KBI has six sponsor organizations, three U.S. and three Mexican, and works on both the American and Mexican side of the border to develop resources to expand their operation into a single building housing the comidor, a shelter, and a first aid station.
From the comidor we drove to the San Juan Bosco Migrant Shelter. Our little bus struggled to ascend the sharply inclined, narrow, and bumpy road necessary to reach the top of a hill where the shelter is located. The Shelter has been open continuously for 31 years. A couple (who run a shoe store and repair shop) started the shelter and still oversees the daily operations while continuing their daily jobs at their shoe business. When the 137 beds are full each night, mats are rolled out to accommodate the overflow. They serve dinner and a light breakfast daily. In 31 years, almost a million migrants have been sheltered in this small space. A young woman who now lives at the shelter with her mother told us her story. She and her mother lived in Phoenix for 20 years. She graduated from high school and won a scholarship to attend college. But she was advised to return to Mexico to use her scholarship, which she learned after crossing the border was not possible. Now she and her mother look for work in Nogales. FESAC has provided the legal resources to help San Juan Bosco Migrant Shelter become a non-profit, which can now receive grants. There are currently plans to write a book about the shelter.
From the shelter we drove to MUAN—Nogales Art Museum. This building, originally built to be a museum in 1962, was just renovated and opened as a museum six months ago. It is one example of how the city of Nogales is working to enrich the city in the development of the arts as well as commerce.
We were treated to lunch at Burrito Jass—the home of the authentic Sonora tortilla. We watched two ladies skillfully shape and bake the 20” diameter tortillas, which then encased a number of delicious fillings. Several of us bought tortillas to take home. Who could resist at $2.00/half dozen?
Driving south from the border, away from the border fence, which costs $60 million a mile to build, we began to tour the commercial and residential areas of Nogales. Wikipedia defines maquiladora as “the Mexican name for manufacturing operations in a free trade zone (FTZ) where factories import material and equipment on a duty-free and tariff-free basis for assembly, processing, or manufacturing and then export the assembled, processed, and/or manufactured products, sometimes back to the raw materials’ country of origin.” We were surprised at the number of factories. The maquiladora area is booming again as companies move back to Mexico from China and other locations.
We saw the visual consequences of the NAFTA agreements in the different kinds of housing surrounding the maquiladora area. We toured a large new housing development planned for company management and we saw (from afar) the Lomas de Anza squatting area. As many people left the countryside to work at cheap labor in the factories these large squatter areas grew up. The areas have become cities-in-the-making, moving from cardboard boxes having no electricity, sewer, or water to more permanent buildings with city provided services. Nogales is working to establish property ownership in these areas. We also saw a community center in one of the colonias surrounding Nogales that offers day care, after school programs for local youth, and teaches adult skill building classes. SCCF/FESAC has been supporting internships for American college students to spend time teaching in the community centers.
As an example of the entrepreneurial spirit in Nogales, we visited ARSOBO—The Wheelchair Project. This is a small shop constructing all-terrain wheelchairs. They are built by two technicians, who are also wheelchair riders. The sturdy all-terrain wheelchairs suit the needs of the local community and also have attracted buyers from around the world.
Our day concluded at La Roca, the well-known restaurant in Nogales, for coffee and flan and a debriefing of the day.
We learned that Nogales is a very fast growing city in Mexico and is attempting to meet the needs of all the newly arrived population: deportees, migrants from other areas seeking employment in the maquiladoras, international business personnel. It is safe and easy to visit Nogales, Sonora, and there is a lot of cultural richness that we miss by not visiting. We also learned first hand that SCCF/FESAC is supporting a number of worthy organizations that could use our help. Walking back through customs to the U.S. we saw more white buses releasing deportees who can only hope to find food and shelter for a few days.
—Bonnie Winn, Donald Veitch, Eileen Veitch