ISJ Essay: Kino Border Initiative, Joanna Williams

Mar 10, 2023

On a recent Sunday afternoon, Joanna Williams, the Executive Director of the Kino Border Initiative (KBI), shared her experiences in Nogales, Sonora, Mexico, along the U.S. southern border with a group of 18 St. Ignatius Loyola parishioners. What an inspiration and a delight to hear from such an accomplished Georgetown graduate about how KBI embodies “Migration with Dignity.”

The Kino Border Initiative, a bi-national organization that is affiliated with the Jesuits, provides humanitarian assistance, education and encounter between migrants and others, and advocacy to promote humane, just, and workable migration. Joanna has been the Executive Director since 2021, but her affiliation with the organization goes back more than a decade. She learned about KBI through an immersion trip organized by Georgetown University while she was a student there.

Because the Kino Border Initiative shelter’s physical location is on the Mexican side of the border, Joanna has a unique window into the hopes and dreams and the fears and challenges of many who migrate from Latin America. She shared the stories of several migrants with the group, including the story of Walter from Honduras. Walter lost his job when his company laid off most workers during the pandemic. Then, two terrible hurricanes wiped out his house and much of the infrastructure in his community. When he tried to rebuild, the area had been taken over by gangs and cartels. His brother-in-law was murdered, and Walter was told he was next. After several months of extortion and threats of violence, Walter felt as though he had no choice but to undertake the dangerous trek and seek asylum in the United States.

Stories like Walter’s are quite common along the border. The push of forced displacement often comes from several factors. In Walter’s case, a climate disaster, poverty, and gang violence all combined to make staying in Honduras impossible.

The Kino Border Initiatives’ current advocacy priorities suggest that we look for ways to meet with local representatives, write “Letters to the Editor,” and otherwise look to tell the story of the borderlands in our local communities. The two priorities that she stressed were (1) allowing those fleeing dangerous circumstances to access asylum at the border and (2) holding government agencies active at the border accountable for the humane treatment of all migrants.

She also welcomed all St. Ignatius Loyola parishioners to learn more about KBI, to partner with them in their amazing work, and to “come and see” how Catholic Social Teaching is put into action. If you would like more information about the Kino Border Initiative or about the parish’s work to support migrants in NYC, please contact [email protected].

— Christine Meyer