Bor­der shel­ters no longer a safe har­bor for mi­grants

Baltimore Sun - - NATION & WORLD - By Astrid Gal­van come­dor.”

PHOENIX — Van­dals broke into a shel­ter, left fe­ces on crosses made by mi­grant men and trashed other parts of the build­ing. Some­one made a threat­en­ing call to a priest who helps serve meals to re­cently de­ported im­mi­grants.

The soup kitchen for de­ported mi­grants in the Mex­i­can city of No­gales, on the bor­der with Ari­zona, has seen a spate of crimes this year. Its leader says the in­ci­dents likely are tied to the cen­ter’s in­volve­ment in help­ing mi­grants re­port crimes.

“We’ve been robbed be­fore, but we’ve never had a break-in like that,” said the Rev. Sean Car­roll, head of the cen­ter known in Span­ish as a “

His ef­forts won Pope Fran­cis’ praise last year.

The break-in and van­dal­ism at the Kino Bor­der Ini­tia­tive-run cen­ter are part of a bor­der-wide prob­lem of drug car­tels that see mi­grant shel­ters as an im­ped­i­ment to their busi­ness be­cause they pro­tect mi­grants who oth­er­wise could be forced into smug­gling drugs or ex­torted for money to cross into the United States.

Car­roll says mi­grants have in­creas­ingly told staff and vol­un­teers they were robbed or kid­napped by crim­i­nal or­ga­ni­za­tions hop­ing to seize on at­tempts to cross the bor­der.

“I think it comes in waves,” said Mau­reen Meyer, a se­nior as­so­ciate with the Washington Of­fice on Latin Amer­ica. “They’re pro­tect­ing some­thing that crim­i­nal or­ga­ni­za­tions use as a profit.”

In No­gales, staffers have es­corted mi­grants to po­lice de­part­ments and helped them file re­ports on 10 oc­ca­sions this year, Car­roll says. The kitchen served over 4,300 meals in Oc­to­ber and pro­vides shel­ter for a lim­ited num­ber of mi­grants.

Car­roll says safety mea­sures are al­ready in place, but he is also work­ing with Mex­i­can po­lice to in­crease pa­trols and pos­si­bly in­stall cam­eras in the kitchen.

Mex­i­can po­lice told The Ari­zona Repub­lic that the van­dal­ism was not re­lated to drug car­tels.

The Rev. Gio­vanni Biz­zotto, di­rec­tor of a shel­ter in Nuevo Laredo, Mex­ico, which sits on the bor­der with Texas, says many mi­grants ex­pe­ri­ence jour­neys that in­clude ex­tor­tion, kid­nap­pings and rob­beries.

Violence against mi- grants in that part of Mex­ico has surged in the past sev­eral years, in­clud­ing the dis­cov­ery of a mass grave that held over 70 mi­grants in the city of San Fer­nando, 250 miles south of Nuevo Laredo. The U.S. State De­part­ment ad­vises against un­nec­es­sary travel to many cities in the state of Ta­mauli­pas.

“The sit­u­a­tion is very hard on the bor­der, but we carry on with hope,” Biz­zotto said.

The Rev. Pat Mur­phy, who op­er­ates a mi­grant shel­ter in Ti­juana, Mex­ico, says he hasn’t seen any is­sues with crime lately, but that could be be­cause the shel­ter is open 24 hours a day and al­ways has staff on hand. The shel­ter pro­vides food, cloth­ing, le­gal as­sis­tance and other ser­vices to de­ported im­mi­grants or those who have just ar­rived in north­ern Mex­ico.

In No­gales, Car­roll said staff dis­cov­ered the van­dal­ized shel­ter Sept. 15. Be­sides fe­ces, they found paint thrown around a ta­ble and soap tossed around.

“It’s a threat­en­ing en­vi­ron­ment for our staff at the mo­ment,” Car­roll said. “We’re mov­ing for­ward, and ob­vi­ously we con­tinue to seek sup­port for our mis­sion, but the mis­sion hasn’t changed.”

JAE C. HONG/AP 2010

Im­mi­grants pray be­fore a meal at a Kino Bor­der Ini­tia­tive-run cen­ter in No­gales, Mex­ico.

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