Mexican border centers give migrants resting place

Hector Calderon-Rodriguez, a Oaxaca-native, awaits the registration process that is administered by Gilda Esquer, co-founder of the Albergue para Migrantes San Juan Bosco, a migrant center located blocks away from the Nogales, Sonora/Nogales, Arizona border checkpoint.  (Photo by Crystal Bedoya)
Hector Calderon-Rodriguez, a Oaxaca-native, awaits the registration process that is administered by Gilda Esquer, co-founder of the Albergue para Migrantes San Juan Bosco, a migrant center located blocks away from the Nogales, Sonora/Nogales, Arizona border checkpoint. Photo by Crystal Bedoya

NOGALES, Sonora –  Within the Albergue para Migrantes San Juan Bosco, adorned by Virgin Mary shrines and migrant-rights posters, hides rows of bunk beds filled with migrants resting after their journeys to and from the United States.

Since 1982, Juan Francisco Loureiro and his wife, Gilda, have provided food, shelter and clothing to thousands of people headed to the United States, or sent packing after deportation. They have heard the same stories, like that of Arturo Palomino.

“It is very painful to think that a border is what separates me from being with my children but I respect the law of the United States,” said Palomino, a 56-year-old Hermosillo-native who was deported November of 2008 for not renewing his permanent resident card.

After residing with his brother in Hermosillo for the last seven years, Palomino returned to Nogales, Sonora, to seek legal help with his immigration status and was recommended by a taco stand cook to seek shelter at the migrant center.

As Palomino continues to seek legal help to argue his case and reinstate his permanent residency, Palomino refuses to cross again because he fears it would jeopardize his chances of returning to Tucson.

With five to 10 volunteers available at the center, Loureiro and his wife have kept it up and running through the help of family and friends. Located a few blocks from the border, the center is tucked in one of the many intricate hills among the colorful and fragile Nogales homes.

Throughout three decades of service, one story impacted Loureiro the most. A family of five arrived and one of the children had a strong resemblance to Loureiro’s grandson.

Determined to keep the family from crossing with the children, he offered to find the parents a job in Nogales.

However, the family left for the United States and returned 15 days later. Two of the children had died in the desert. Loureiro’s grandson doppelganger returned blind due to an infection caused by the sun, sand and wind.

“That was one of my strongest pains I had felt,” he said. “I had to leave for two months because I fell into depression.”

This year, the Nogales center’s migrant flow has been reduced by 60 percent, compared to previous years, normally receiving around 150 to 200 people daily. They are currently serving about 100 migrants a day.

As security strengthened across the Mexico/U.S. border, fewer migrants are willing to sacrifice their lives to cross the desert with the fear of apprehension or death.

Migrant apprehension numbers have fallen throughout the last seven years, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection. In all, 858,638 migrants were detained through the Southwest border in 2007, decreasing to 479,371 migrants held in 2014.

But they still keep coming, said Olga Alicia Escalante, manager of Associacion Casa del Migrante la Divina Providencia along the border in San Luis, Mexico.

“They arrive very worried and mortified,” Escalante said. “Some that were already living in the United States have families over there and once they are caught, they have to abandon their families. However, there are many that lose hope and decide not to continue their attempts to cross again.

The San Luis center, which generally serves men, has been open for 25 years and is run through donations from the community.

Similar centers serve migrants in Agua Prieta, Altar, Sonora, and other stops along the Mexican border. Some of the centers provide migrants a place to sleep, food, clothing, and phone services to call loved ones.

Other services, such as Grupo Beta and Repatriacion Humana, help migrants as they return to Mexico and provide medical aid, transportation and information about their rights. 

With some migrants trying to re-enter the United States, there are others who want to return home, said Brenda Cuellar, U.S. Coordinator of the Migrant Resource Center in Agua Prieta, Sonora.

 “Every Monday and Thursday for two hours, migrants here call the Mexican consulate, (in Douglas, Arizona) give them their basic information and then they are able to go back to their place of origin,” Cuellar said.” They don’t charge them anything and it’s only one time in their lives.”

The Agua Prieta center also saw a decline in travelers served, dropping from 11,289 in 2010 to 5,352 in 2014.

With about 25 volunteers from both the United States and Mexico, the Agua Prieta resource center works closely with the Mexican consulate to facilitate trips home. 

With Puebla, Oaxaca, and Mexico City serving as common return sites, the experiences they gain while crossing were difficult, yet they are grateful for the migrant centers.

“Juan Bosco is so very beautiful to me,” Palomino said. “It’s a nice place because you are received well, you feel welcomed. You get a bed, shower, and you get everything you need.”

Crystal Bedoya is a reporter for Arizona Sonora News, a service from the School of Journalism with the University of Arizona. Contact her at

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