Skip to main content

Seeing Challenge as Opportunity: From the View of Nogales

Written by Hallie Bodey, Ciocca Center Program Director


           During Spring Break, I joined Santa Clara University’s Ignatian Center for Jesuit Education’s faculty and staff Nogales, Sonora, Mexico / Nogales, Arizona Border Immersion1 at Kino Border Initiative.2  Having worked for almost a decade in and alongside immigration, I knew that I needed to see the Mexico / US border to better empathize and uplift our immigrant community.

           Each night, as I told my family about the experience, they would say “You knew this all though.  Is any of this a surprise?”  Yes, I knew the facts.  From a technical standpoint, I knew the challenges of receiving asylum and I knew the various designations that the US government uses to categorize immigrants.  I knew that folks crossing the border died alone in the desert, sometimes never found, nor identified.  However, it was different to stand in the coroners office and look at an unidentified skeleton, different to walk through the desert brush myself, to have my clothes cut up and my skin bruised, different to find abandoned camps with shoes that had broken apart, to feel the unbearable heat, and to know I was seen through the eyes of cartels and Border Patrol.

           Seeing challenges as opportunities is hard, especially, for our society’s marginalized and minoritized populations.  Yet, innovation happens, even in dire situations.  When crossing, folks bring a variety of unique or modified items along with them.  Rather than carrying clear water bottles, migrants bring matte black water bottles to prevent reflections from the sun which may give away their location to Border Patrol.  Similarly, migrants make and wear “carpet shoes” to cover their tracks in the desert, again, to try to evade Border Patrol. 

         To be an immigrant, whether short term or long term, for study abroad or for life, is entrepreneurial.  Migrants who try every channel to come to the US, including spending $14,000 on coyotes3 to try again and again to cross, are entrepreneurial.  Risking death, dehydration, and health with hope for a better life is entrepreneurial.  Our host, Jaret Ornelas, SJ, reminded us - Migrants are not to be pitied, they are to be admired.  Migrants fight against unfair policy, they continue to work towards achieving their dreams.  This is similar to the entrepreneurial mindset of continuing to iterate again and again on a problem, and of course, to see challenge as opportunity

        The immigration system seems impossible to fix.  At the Border Patrol presentation, our presenter shifted blame to other subdivisions of the US government and to the cartels.  However, it is important to reconsider the immigration system challenges as an opportunity to iterate and create change.  It is my hope in my work that I can uplift our immigrant community and can take steps to change our immigration system.4  In conclusion, I implore you to consider calling your representatives, and urging them to take action to improve our immigration system and to change the definition of asylum to be more inclusive.

1.  Thank you to the Ignatian Center for Jesuit Education for hosting this immersion, particularly, Darcy Philips and Tony Cortese.  Thank you to Kino Border Initiative staff for hosting and educating us, particularly, Jaret Ornelas, Tracey Horan, Courtney Smith, Fr. Max Landman, Fr. Pete Neeley, Sr. Engracia Robles, and Pedro De Velasco.

2.  If you are looking for further reading and wish to simultaneously support the Kino Border Initiative, I recommend Voices of the Border: Testimonios of Migration, Deportation, and Asylum.

3. A person who smuggles migrants across the US border.

4. If you are looking for ways to get involved or informed, I would love to connect.