Agua Prieta: Supporting “the line”

Ted and Nancy Collins served as accompaniers in Agua Prieta in early May, the first accompaniers in this new Border Accompaniment effort. You can read more here about why accompaniment was requested and the Agua Prieta community. In this Accompanier Report, Ted and Nancy tell about some of what they saw and experienced and what the day-to-day was like for them as accompaniers. Thank you to Ted and Nancy for being the first accompaniers and for sharing with us!

It has been over 10 years since we crossed into Mexico at the US border. The lack of tourist items and white US citizens shopping across the border was an initial impression. Big lines of cars (3 lanes wide) are always waiting to crossover from Mexico during the day. They back up for 3 or 4 blocks consistently. The border crossing by car can take hours and we are at a remote part of the border.

Cars are everywhere. Few people seem to walk. The public bus system is reported to be unreliable and we haven’t seen many of them. School children walk daily across the border to attend school in Douglas, Arizona. Many Mexicans walk across daily to work or shop in the US. We understand that there are several factories on the fringes of Agua Prieta, but we have not seen them.

The CRM (Centro de Recursos para Migrantes) in Agua Prieta.

When we arrived last Saturday we were put right to work helping to man the CRM (Centro de Recursos para Migrantes). It is a lovely building about 3 blocks from ‘the line’ where migrants are waiting to be called by immigration to cross the border. We walk to ‘the line’ at least 3 times a day (7am, noon, and 7pm) to accompany those that want to come to CRM to use the bathroom and shower. We make a couple of trips each time because we only bring a few at a time, in case immigration should call. Most are young families; couples or single mothers with children and a few single men.*

We visit as we go and they tell us where they plan to go in the States and what kind of work they have done. They are endearing folks and the children are beautiful. I have called the waiting place ‘the line’, but it is really a long cave made of blankets and tarps right against the wall at the entrance to the border crossing. It is appalling. There are about 15 people in this cave at any one time. Their stay here is usually 3-4 days. They have already waited in a local church shelter for 30 days when they advance to the cave. The shelter was designed to hold 40-50 people but at this point has 154. When a family group is called from ‘the line’ to immigration, we replace their number with folks from the shelter. There are days when no one is called to cross the border.

The priest at the church that houses the shelter has told the director of the shelter that he must reduce the population by at least 50. That means fewer spots for people to stay while awaiting the opportunity to cross the border. Everyday new people show up at the entrance to the border crossing. They are put on an orderly list, but there are no accommodations to offer them while they wait. Some have funds for a motel, most do not. We know there is danger of extortion from the cartel for these folks, but we have not witnessed this. We also have not seen where these folks go.

We have accompanied folks from Guatemala, Cuba, and Russia, but most that we have encountered are from the Mexican state of Guerrero. It is hard to get a real picture of what is happening in Guerrero that has forced so many young people to seek asylum.

That being said, these are strong people who want a better life for their children. They expect to work and be productive citizens. I fear for what they will encounter when they get to the States. We hear too much about jails and being detained. These people are seeking legal entrance. I cannot bear to think of these children being taken away from their parents. From friends we have heard of programs in Tucson to help migrants on their way to family in the States. We can only pray that the folks we have met can be received there.

The staff and volunteers at the shelter, CRM, and Frontera de Cristo are doing a marvelous job in a situation that is overwhelming.

-Nancy and Ted Collins

*As US citizens, we are at less risk for intimidation from cartels in these activities at the “line” and at the CRM. This also enables local volunteers to spend more time at the CAME shelter.