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, members of the east-coast Meeting Ground organization, and a consortium of pastors from Philadelphia met together to consider the possibility of an experiential education program. 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. A delegation 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.