The cartels were fighting each other for territory, Luis explains, and his family was stuck dead-center in the middle of it.
“One night, they came and knocked on the door,” he says. “With their guns. ‘You have to leave now,’ they told us. Nothing more than that, just …‘you have to leave now.’”
Luis glances at his children playing a few feet away—a boy about 4 years old and his sister, a year or two older. “What could I do?” he demands of no one in particular, and lowers his head. “We left. We left behind everything we couldn’t carry on our backs.”
That was 15 months ago. That’s how long it took the family to travel here from their home, some 2,000 miles away.
The other man nods with a rough sympathy. He is also a father, but older than Luis, with deep grooves of worry etched into his mahogany-hued face. Antonio has two pretty daughters, ages 12 and 14. He left his home because of them. Nobody has to ask why.
And now both are waiting at the comedor (soup kitchen) in Nogales, Mexico, run by the Jesuit brothers of the Kino Border Initiative. They are asylum seekers, waiting for their turn to be interviewed, but no one can tell them when their turn will come.
Nogales is a border town controlled by the cartel. As long as migrants stay close to the church, they are safe. The cartel members leave the holy ones at the church alone. But walk outside of the church property, and head a bit north…then you will be stopped—and maybe worse—by armed gang members.
And you can’t stay near the church forever.
The longer these families are forced to wait in Nogales, the more likely that something terrible will happen. Both fathers know this. Yet there is nothing they can do about it.
Antonio is on the look-out for someone to help him get birth control pills. This is beyond the scope of the nuns and the Jesuits, of course, but Antonio knows they must be available elsewhere.
He doesn’t want them for his wife. He wants them for his daughters.
“Look at this place,” he tells Luis, his voice raw with defeat, “It’s just a matter of time before they are raped.”
Two good fathers. Two strong fathers. Two powerless fathers. Both beaten and crushed and yet still striving to somehow protect their children.
There can be no final surrender.
Along with a group of staff and volunteers from all over the JFON network, Florida JFON board member Jonathan Sanchez visited the soup kitchen in Nogales earlier this month. He was able to talk to asylum seekers and recent deportees from Mexico, Central America, the Caribbean and even from his native Venezuela.
But Jonathan couldn’t stop thinking about the two fathers, Luis and Antonio. With a 5-year old daughter of his own, it wasn’t hard for him to imagine being in their place. What would he do? Where would he go?
“Think about it,” says Jonathan. “Whatever is happening to these families in Nogales, what waits for them back home is worse. Giving up is not an option for them.”
“And it wouldn’t be for me, either.”
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Please visit Jonathan’s blog Walking in Justice/Caminando En Justicia.
Featured image from Kino Border Initiative.