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Our Story: A Look back on 25 Years

USAS group - archived photos

It was the spirit of the faith-and-conscience-based Sanctuary Movement of the 1980’s that gave rise to the founding of BorderLinks.  In 1987, Tucson Sanctuary Workers, folks from the east-coast Meeting Ground organization, and a consortium of pastors from Philadelphia met together to consider the possibility of an experiential education program.  Their commitment to helping refugees crossing the border made many Sanctuary workers aware of the strategic role such political and economic barriers play in dividing people in general, and the populations of Mexico and the United States in particular.  The conviction grew that a great need existed for people, especially North Americans, to experience the context and stories of life on the border.

The first BorderLinks delegation arrived in Arizona from the east coast early in 1988 for a border immersion experience.  These first trips focused on the conflicts taking place in Central American countries at that time and on the difficulties encountered by refugees fleeing north across the U.S.-Mexico border.

In the early 1990s, after peace accords were signed and the refugee flow diminished, BorderLinks’ focus shifted as we developed stronger relationships in northern Mexican communities. We directed our attention to helping communities understand the profound implications of the rapidly emerging global economy on daily life. Visits with various local activists, humanitarians, non-profit workers, government representatives, and social service organizations connected participants with communities in Nogales, Tucson, and other cities on both sides of the border.

In 1999, with the support of dedicated churches, schools, and individuals, BorderLinks purchased the Casa de la Misericordia community center in Nogales, Sonora, Mexico.  The Casa was originally built and owned by Jose and Esperanza Torres and run by Esther Torres as a food program for children in the community.  When Jose died suddenly in 1998, Esperanza decided that she couldn’t continue to manage the work alone and offered to sell the property to BorderLinks to continue these community projects. 

This was an opportunity for BorderLinks to partner with the people of Nogales by supporting the work already begun by the women in the community.  The alliance opened up additional ways of working with the members of the surrounding communities in their endeavors to direct and improve their lives and the lives of their children.

In years since, BorderLinks has initiated a micro-lending program, a Semester on the Border program, and bi-national encuentros focused on topics such as the border economy, faith across borders, the migrant journey, and alternative technologies on the border.  These efforts offered the chance for hundreds of people to engage with border issues in new ways.  

In 2004, BorderLinks purchased and renovated a Tucson property that allowed us to expand and enhance our programs.  The property was remodeled for staff offices, a large dormitory, a parking lot, and kitchen and community space. Through grants, we’ve recently developed the outdoor area to include a water cistern, garden, and earthworks projects.

Where we are today...
Since 2010, the community center in Nogales has been known as the Hogar de Esperanza y Paz (HEPAC) and is an independent Mexican nonprofit in partnership with BorderLinks. As sister organizations, we share leadership and facilitation on delegations and provide local context and knowledge to deepen the immersion experience.  Delegations learn about popular education in action through HEPAC's Children's Food Security Program, which provides children in the surrounding neighborhoods with healthy and nutritious meals.  This program also strengthens the children's involvement in community formation programs such as weeklong educational camps, classes, and sports. HEPAC also hosts government sponsored classes for adults, where participants learn computer and English skills, receive financial support for their participation, and earn a certificate from the National Institute of Work.

With over 25 years of experience, BorderLinks continues to provide dynamic programming, a dedicated and knowledgeable staff, an extensive group of community partners and committed donors, fiscal accountability, and a highly regarded reputation for consciousness and credibility. BorderLinks offers educational immersion opportunities for self-organized groups as well as delegation opportunities for individuals.  With changes in the political and social climate, many of our delegations travel to Mexico, while others stay on the U.S. side of the border to explore the Arizona context more deeply.

Our programs offer participants a unique opportunity for academic study, experiential learning, and community living along the U.S.-Mexico border.  Led by a bilingual, multicultural staff, BorderLinks currently provides four basic opportunities that are tailored to the needs and interests of our participants:

· Border Delegations (1 day to 3 weeks in Southern Arizona and/or northern Mexico)

· Extended Civic Engagement Programs (1-2 months of delegations and internships)

· Special Focus Delegations (1-10 days focused on food, detention, education, indigenous issues, or other topics)

· Community Workshops (1-3 days with interactive exercises focused on border history, media
  representation of immigrants, legal immigration, free trade, and other activities).


Special Thanks to Our Spring and Summer Delegations!

North Carolina Cooperative Extension, Arizona State University, Lake Forest, SOA Watch, Whitman College, Unitarian Universalist Association, Duke University (Duke Engage), Portland Jesuit High School, University of Denver, Social Action Summer Institute, St. Andrews UMC, Mennonite Church USA, Murray Hills Christian Church, Los Feliz UMC  

To see the complete list of our delegations, click here.

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