During the week of March 24th, the social and international ministry assistants from the U.S., English Canada and Mexico Provinces of the Society of Jesus gathering in Tijuana, Mexico, for meetings of the Jesuit Commission for Social and International Ministries (JCSIM).
The meetings took place at Casa Manresa, a Jesuit retreat house on the grounds of the Tijuana IberoAmericana University, a location intended to bring participants closer to the issues of migration and comprehensive, humane immigration reform in the U.S. This is an issue that the U.S. Jesuits have been advocating for over the last 12 years.
In addition to the JCSIM meetings, attendees spoke with Jesuits living and working in Tijuana about the impact of the U.S. immigration system.
While there are still migrants passing through Tijuana on their way to the U.S. in search of work, deportations of undocumented immigrants from the U.S. are a major part of life in the city.
“U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) agents literally drop off detained immigrants over the border by the bus-full,” said Mr. Nicholas Napolitano, provincial’s assistant for social ministries for the Maryland, New England and New York Provinces. “Many of the people they leave in Tijuana are not from Mexico. Few have any relationships or support networks in Tijuana. And without proper identification and working papers, deportees cannot obtain work in Mexico regardless of the skills they bring with them.”
Mr. Napolitano and others who attended the meetings observed that Tijuana remains a city with thousands of people living in purgatory, stuck in a place that is not home, unable to return to the home they created in the U.S., and fearful of returning to their homes of origin.
“That is why 1,800 people live in a man-made cement river channel that runs near the border clinging to the few belongings that remain,” said Mr. Napolitano. “That is why over 1,200 individuals go to the Salesian run Desayunador for their only daily meal. That is why Casa del Migrante, a transitional living and service center for migrants and deportees run by the Scalabrini order, served over 8,000 men last year.”
Attempted crossings in Tijuana have reportedly declined drastically over the last few years – a double border fence lined with motion sensors and constant helicopter surveillance by the CBP has forced migrants to attempt crossings through the desert further east in Arizona and New Mexico.
On April 1st, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops hosted a Mass along the US/Mexico border in Nogales, Ariz., which highlighted the dangers of crossing the desert: over 6,000 migrants have been found dead since 1998. Cardinal Seán O’Malley said during his homily, “As the border crossings become more and more difficult, people take greater risks and more are perishing.” The desert border region in the United States has come to be known as “our Lampedusa,” a reference to a trip by Pope Francis to Lampedusa, Italy, in 2013 to pray for migrants who died attempting to reach Europe by boat.