Life at the Border: Celebrating 30 Years of Mission at the Casa del Migrante in Tijuana

Fr. Pat Murphy, c.s.
Centro Scalabrini – Casa del Migrante
Tijuana, Mexico

Life at the Border: Celebrating 30 Years of Mission at the Casa del Migrante in Tijuana

On April 30, 2017 the Casa del Migrante – Centro Scalabrini in Tijuana celebrated its 30th anniversary. During the 30 years of mission, the Casa has offered hospitality to over 254,000 people. It is not an exaggeration to say that since its foundation in 1987 a small city has passed through the doors of Centro Scalabrini.

Consequently, to celebrate our anniversary we decided to write a book about our 30 years of service to some of the most vulnerable people you will ever meet. It has been no small task to keep the doors of the Casa open and to serve over a quarter of a million people since 1987. In fact, I would say that on so many levels we live the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves and the fishes daily. It is a time to give thanks and to say thanks to all those who do so much to help us keep the Casa open every single day of the year. As the saying goes – “it takes a village” – and, because we have so many dedicated people working in the village of Casa del Migrante, we felt compelled to write about these last 30 years of service to migrants

The book’s title is Vidas en Vilo, which loosely translates into Lives in Limbo. This is an apt way to describe life of the Casa, as well as to speak about the history of the city of Tijuana. In the last 20 years, Tijuana has doubled in size and is now approaching a population of three million. Without a doubt, most of the growth is due to the immigrants who now call Tijuana home

With this in mind, we undertook the task of trying to capture the spirt of the last 30 years. The heart of the book is 129 pages dedicated to migrant testimonies. We made a great effort to let the voices of the migrants speak for themselves and so in Chapter 5 we included 43 testimonies of the migrants themselves. At times their words are raw. They will also make you laugh, leave you crying, and cause you simply to wonder why things are the way they are. One thing for sure is that your heart will be moved by these stories of the lives of people on the move.

The books begin with an introduction that explains what Lives in Limbo is all about and what motivated us to write it. Chapter 1 offers a brief history of the Casa and includes a reflection on those who have made the Casa what it is today. For example, over the course of its existence, the Casa has enjoyed over 500 volunteers who dedicated a few months of service to migrants.

Chapter 2 analyzes the social demographics of those being deported through Tijuana and offers some insights into their life plans. It is a scholarly attempt to show how El Colegio de la Frontera Norte (COLEF) and the Casa have worked side by side during these past 30 years for the benefit of the migrants. This has been a great marriage between COLEF and the Casa

Chapter 3 describes an extraordinary event that occurred in 2016 when over 20,000 Haitians arrived at the border in the hope of seeking asylum in the United States. This chapter explores how this came to pass and what has happened in the interim.

Chapter 4 presents the Casa through the lens of photography, reminding us that a picture is worth a thousand words. The photographs capture both the moods and emotions of those who spent time at the Casa.

Chapter 5 consists of a collection of testimonies from guests at the Casa: the deportees, Central Americans in transit, and candidates for political asylum.

The conclusion is entitled, “The Challenges in the Era of President Trump,” or as I like to refer to it – “My Love Letter to President Trump.” In this chapter, I try to predict what may happen over the course of the next four years (What I can say is that looking back at this chapter, I have great ability to predict the future).

In reviewing our last 30 years of service through the pages of this book I have three conclusions to share with you. First, Casa del Migrante has been an oasis of mercy for many people. Those who arrive at our doors are the most vulnerable and desperate persons. For a short period of time as guests at our house, they have an opportunity to feel secure and gather some strength for the journey.

Second, we have helped a lot of people and made a real difference in many lives. However, we have made our share of mistakes as well, and so our mantra has always been to learn from those mistakes and do better the next day.

Third, one strategic error was to think that comida y techo (food and shelter) was all we needed to provide at the Casa. In the past few years, it has become painfully clear to us that we needed to do much more to make a difference in people’s lives. Consequently, in the past four years, we have made a great effort to confront the reality of the 90 percent of our guests who are deportees. In particular, we have developed a very specific way of helping our guests to transition back to Mexico, which we call the Scalabrini Model of Social Reintegration. This model is working, and I believe we are saving the lives of many guests that we have the pleasure to work with on a regular basis. The early evidence indicates that when our guests are given some extra support services it makes all the difference in their adjustment to their home country. In a future blog I will write more extensively about the Scalabrini Model of Social Reintegration, as well about the new school for immigrants we hope to start in 2018.

At this moment, readers who speak Spanish may be wondering how to obtain a copy of Vidas en Vilo. All you have do is to send me at e-mail to me at [email protected], along with your address. We will be happy to mail you a copy of the book for the low price of $10.00 plus $4.50 for shipping. If you want a short history of immigration at the Tijuana-San Diego border, then this is a book for you. In the meantime, we have begun our 31st year and, as I predicted in the book’s conclusion, our work has not slowed down. In fact, over the last 3 months our numbers have picked up quite a bit. Thanks to all those who made the Casa possible over the last 30 years and many blessings on those who continue to support Casa del Migrante – Centro Scalabrini.

November 21, 2017