Caring presence: Migrant Resource Center reopens its doors in Agua Prieta

Joca Gallegos, president of the Migrant Resource Center board, speaks at the reopening of the center in Agua Prieta. 

AGUA PRIETA, Sonora — Migrating to the United States is a traumatic experience for many.

Every day along the Arizona-Mexico border, recently deported migrants from Central America or Mexico are left in unfamiliar cities without money, often separated from loved ones, or suffering injuries from a long journey to the U.S. or from being held in detention.

A center in Agua Prieta is helping this population, whether it be by providing medical treatment, legal help or by offering the simple comfort of a long, hot shower.

The Migrant Resource Center (MRC), jointly run by Douglas-based organization Frontera de Cristo and Agua Prieta migrant support organization C.A.M.E, reopened its doors on Friday night following more than year of construction.

The new and improved building, located in a bright, grassy yard just steps from the Douglas port of entry, features spaces for legal advice, abuse documentation, medical attention, food and clothing, as well as services for migrants trying to return home or connect with friends and family.

Perhaps most importantly, it offers the steady, welcoming presence of a caring binational community, said Joca Gallegos, president of the MRC board.

“We’re open again, and we want to be a support for the community,” she said. “Agua Prieta has become a city where a lot of migrants arrive, and sometimes because they’ve been here for a while, (people) forget that they were a migrant.

“So having the migrant resource center is a way to remember them, and any people that are seeking support and help.”

About 9,000 people have sought out that help since the center first opened its doors in 2006, said Mark Adams, U.S. coordinator of Frontera de Cristo.

While the number of migrants who come to the center fluctuates year by year depending on current situations and policies in their own countries and in the U.S. — and not as many migrants have been “returned” through the Douglas port in 2018 as they have been in past — it is still important to have resources available for those who need them, he said.

“The mission of the center is evolving,” Adams continued. “The center will be a space still for orientation for people who are transit. We can help people find their loved ones, and it’s a space where we’ll be providing a bit of a legal clinic for folks who are trying to work through the legal system.”

For center coordinator Betto Ramos, who has been with the MRC since its early days, the official reopening is a day to celebrate the hard-working people who made sure that the center continued on and thrived for so long. However, he also wishes things had improved more for the migrant community in the past 10 years or so, he said.

“Things continue being very difficult of this migrant population,” he said. “It’s important for folks in the U.S. to know that migrants aren’t criminals, that these people leave their countries due to other circumstances.

“Violence more than anything else — it’s very difficult for them.”

The center has come a long way since its beginnings, when it consisted of passing out blankets and hot food to migrants on the streets of Agua Prieta, said Miriam Maldonado, who works at Frontera de Cristo with her husband, Adams.

Maldonado first came up with the idea for the center after seeing a need for one in the city, she said. It has been interesting for her to see how it has evolved over the years, not only in the services it offers, but in the diverse group of people it has united around a central cause, she said.

“We received a very good response from the community from both sides of the border, in Agua Prieta, in Douglas, in Sierra Vista,” she said. “A lot of people came together to respond and to provide a welcoming for our migrant brothers and sisters.”

As long as there is a need along the border, the center will be there, said Adams.

“We definitely want to be present and ready, for those who find themselves in AP without family or without friends,” he said, “Even if it’s just a few, it’s important that we’re there.”

To learn more about the Migrant Resource Center, visit the organization’s website at fronteradecristo.org/migrant-resource-center/.

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