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A young girl looks toward her brother as they participate in a counseling session with their mother inside the Women's Shelter run by the Kino Border Initiative in Nogales, Sonora, Mexico.
(Nogales, Arizona) — Jesuit Refugee Service/USA and five partner organizations officially launched the Kino Border Initiative in the twin cities of Nogales, Sonora, Mexico and Nogales, Arizona, U.S.A., on Sunday, January 18, 2009, with a Mass at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Nogales, Ariz.

The Kino Border Initiative "is the culmination of a three-year process of reflection, discernment and conversations along the Arizona – Mexico border about the reality of migration and the most urgent needs with respect to migration in general and for our Church in particular," said Fr. Sean Carroll, S.J., of the California Province, Executive Director of the KBI.

Over the past six years, the United States Catholic Conference of Bishops (USCCB) has identified comprehensive immigration reform as a major public policy priority within the Church. In 2003, U.S. Catholic Bishops collaborated with Mexican Bishops to promulgate the joint pastoral letter on migration, Strangers No Longer: Together on a Journey of Hope.

In 2005, the USCCB was joined by the U.S. Jesuit Conference and many other religious congregations and organizations to sponsor and promote Justice for Immigrants, a national campaign to raise awareness about Church teaching on human rights, migration and immigration reform, and to advocate at the local and national levels for comprehensive immigration reform.

The Society of Jesus seeks to respond to the call of Christ who is present among those who are suffering from the consequences of contemporary immigration policy, border enforcement efforts, and the reality of undocumented migration, apprehension, detention and deportation.

The social and economic forces that are driving these crises are bi-national forces, and any genuine attempt to be present to these crises must be bi-national in its approach. Moreover, the Society of Jesus wishes to be a genuine help to those committed men, women, parishes, and organizations that are already engaged in service to people and communities affected by the consequences of these forces. Ultimately, the Jesuits strive to be "in solidarity with the least and with all."

Through the establishment of an innovative effort, the Kino Border Initiative, JRS/USA along with other partners seeks to serve the Church by providing opportunities for pastoral formation, faith-based social analysis, and advocacy for the protection of human rights and the common good.

The bi-national ministry is a collaborative effort among Jesuit Refugee Service/USA, the California Province of the Society of Jesus, the Mexico Province of the Society of Jesus, the Missionary Sisters of the Eucharist, the Archdiocese of Hermosillo and the Diocese of Tucson.

"One of the most gratifying things about this effort is that it is a partnership amongst so many … committed groups," said Rev. John McGarry, S.J., Provincial of the California Province of the Society of Jesus.

"This kind of apostolic partnership and sponsorship is a model for future ministry in the church and we make it a reality today in this initiative," Fr. McGarry said.

By making a concrete and visible commitment to the Kino Border Initiative, the Society of Jesus is making a public and prophetic commitment to stand in solidarity with the migrant poor. 

While the Jesuits have much to offer in terms of resources, spirituality, and educational experience, we also have much to learn and receive from the reality of communities living on both sides of the Mexican border.

The Society of Jesus seeks to respond to the call of Christ who is present among those who are suffering from the consequences of contemporary immigration policy, border enforcement efforts, and the reality of undocumented migration, apprehension, detention and deportation.

The Kino Border Initiative is "very much in the spirit of the letter signed by the Mexican and U.S. Bishops in January of 2003, 'Strangers No Longer.' In that letter they urged a serious, just, loving and humane approach to the issue of migration, and to do so in a cooperative way, to respond across borders, because the reality of immigration and migration is a global one, a bi-national one," said Fr. Carroll.

Jesuit Refugee Service recognized a need for the Kino Border Initiative while working as chaplains for detainees in federal detention centers throughout the United States for the last nine years. The majority of these detainees are non–citizen immigrants who have lived in the U.S. without documentation, and whose sole offense is an infraction of the immigration code.

Jesuit Refugee Service was founded 28 years ago, and now works in 57 countries. The mission of JRS is to accompany, serve and defend the rights of refugees and the forcibly displaced, a vulnerable and often forgotten people.

"The most forgotten and the most vulnerable of people in our country are largely housed and detained in detention centers run by the federal government. The number of people detained in our country has risen from a mere few thousand some eight or nine years ago to more than 400,000 per year at this moment," said Fr. Ken Gavin, Director of Jesuit Refugee Service/USA.

"The Kino Border Initiative extends the accompaniment provided by JRS/USA chaplains in the detention centers to the border crossing of Nogales, where KBI staff welcome them and help them meet their most immediate humanitarian needs," in a small but profound way, Gavin said.

Joining Fr. Carroll on the KBI staff are Fr. Peter Neeley, S.J., also of the California Province, who will be Associate for Education and Formation; Fr. Martin McIntosh, S.J., of the Mexican Province, who will be Associate for Socio-Pastoral Outreach, and Fr. Donald Bahlinger, S.J., of the New Orleans Province, who will serve as Chaplain. Additionally, nuns from the Missionary Sisters of the Eucharist, whose motherhouse is located in Colima, Mexico, will be an integral part of the KBI’s efforts.

"This is an initiative that we begin as a Church family, that goes beyond borders, and it is a response as a Church to the reality of migration," said Fr. Carroll after the inaugural Mass in Nogales, Ariz.

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