In the hot August sun, five Loyola students hiked along a rocky dirt trail in Mexico, just a few miles from the US border. We walked in the same footsteps as a migrant man or woman desperate to get to the United States. I was one of those students. This experience was part of a KINO Club immersion trip that allowed us to see what was happening on the border from the viewpoints of an undocumented migrant, a patrol agent, and a rancher living along the border. But, it wasn't until the arduous hike along that trail where we saw the remnants of migrants that had been there before us, that we began to grasp what it takes for someone to start a new life in the United States.
As we walked through the desert bushes where migrants sometimes hide from Border Patrol, the temperature was above 90 degrees. Most migrants don’t have anything but the clothes on their back. They do not have the backpacks, hiking boots or sun hats that we used. Along the trail we saw empty water bottles painted black, tossed on the road after migrants had finished the water. Migrants paint the water bottles black so searchlights from Border Patrol agents won't reflect off the plastic and give them away. There were diapers from mothers carrying babies, and clothes they were forced to abandon when a smuggler told them there was no room in the vehicle crossing the border. We found identification papers and family photos, once important and valued, blown under bushes and covered with dirt because some smuggler forced the desperate owner to throw them away. You can only imagine what it must be like for a 20-something man to throw away the only picture he has of his mom, dad or girlfriend.
Our expert guide was Fr. Pete Neeley, SJ. He was once a teacher at Loyola in the 1960’s, but has since made his life-work offering food, clean showers and a place out of the sun to migrants crossing the border. This safe place is called The Commodore and it is a 20-minute walk on the Mexico side from the border. At the Commodore we served them food and helped them understand the risks of crossing the border, including being arrested. But more importantly, we had a chance to see that most migrants are scared and nervous about what will happen to them. Fr. Pete, who led us on this hike, gave us a first-hand account of the risk these people are taking to get into the United States -- jail, deportation, homelessness and sometimes, even violence at the hands of smugglers. Fr. Pete also explained that many had family or friends in the United States, and the risk of a better life and a better job was worth it to them.
As a student, when Loyola talks about being “ men for and with others” one doesn’t always understand the concrete meaning of that lofty goal. It sounds good, but how do I accomplish it? The KINO Club is dedicated to social justice and the rights of human decency. KINO shows you directly where social justice is being denied and where Loyola students can use their voice and good will to help. Loyola has taught me that making a commitment to social justice is a real contribution to making our society better.