TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - Former long-time Tucson Bishop, Gerald Kicanas, sat down exclusively with KOLD’s Angelica Carrillo to talk about the crisis on the border.
"We're a very polarized society right now and we need to dampen down the rhetoric and dampen down the divisions that exist," Kicanas said.
Kicanas recently finished serving as the head of the Las Cruces Diocese in New Mexico.
As part of the El Paso sector, it's an area that's been overwhelmed by migrants.
But Kicanas has a message for other border communities and the rest of the country.
“We’re struggling as a country to come together and to find a commonality in our response of the presence of migrants and refugees,” he said.
Kicanas has served in communities made up of immigrants for most of his life.
"The Hispanic presence is very strong, the culture difference is very beautiful," he said.
The recent uptick of Central American migrants has forced churches and border communities to open their doors even further.
"One of the values that is key to a society is hospitality and welcome," Kicanas said.
It’s that message of hospitality that Kicanas wants to spread.
“It’s recognizing the dignity of the other person, even though they may look very different, they may speak very different but they’re brother, they’re sister and we try to make them welcome,” he said.
Just down the road from Las Cruces, the small town of Deming has welcomed thousands of migrants to the National Guard Armory.
Ray Trejo runs a shelter for the city and he’s hoping it will be a model for other shelters.
"First and foremost, respect and dignity and we just want to make it comfortable," he said.
As a former educator – the children are a big priority.
"There's puzzles, there's books, there's a whole host of things that can do to make it feel more like home," Trejo said.
Mireya Velasquez is a single mom from Honduras.
She said she and her daughter Chelsea, fearing for their safety, fled their home.
She said she used to own a clothing store, but it was broken into and she was assaulted. After that, she kept getting laid off other jobs.
Velasquez said she paid a coyote $6,500 to get to the United States, but the road wasn’t what she expected.
Mireya said she was forced to sleep on the floor and was made to feel like trash.
She said yes, they are immigrants, they came to enter to U.S., but they’re here because they want a better life.
Velasquez said all kinds of people come and while there are bad people included in that, there are also good people who are coming to fight for their families.
She said her plan is to follow the immigration process and get her daughter in school.
Mireya plans to look for a church and she heard they can help her there.
It's that help that Bishop Kicanas hopes others find inspiring.
“Yes there are people who are angry who are spiteful, who are hateful but I hope we can open their hearts to see that these are people like themselves,” Kicanas said.
When asked about a solution to the immigration crisis, Kicanas has this to say.
“I think the solutions are clear, one is that we need comprehensive immigration policy reform here in the United States,” he said. “I think most people understand most of our presidents have understood that the system is broken that it needs to be fixed.”
And until that happens, churches and shelters like these will show their hospitality.
Angelica Carrillo has been reporting on the Crisis On The Border for several months. Below are links to the other stories she has produced.
- Tiny Texas church risks everything to help migrants
- Migrants overflowing El Paso Sector; Tucson steps in to help
- Border Patrol: Teen drug trafficking, migrant numbers down in Douglas area
- Yuma area inundated with migrants crossing illegally, legally
- Nogales border technology helps arrest violent criminal
- Migrants take advantage of border vulnerabilities near Lukeville
- Exclusive interview with Tucson Sector Border Patrol Chief
- KOLD News 13 Crisis On The Border special