December 27, 2023

More than 25 years of cross-border advocacy and solidarity on the Douglas-Agua Prieta border

AZPM sat down with a couple who migrated to Douglas/Agua Prieta in the late 90s. In the decades working with migrants on the border, they’ve seen changes. What hasn’t changed is the community’s ability to open doors and hearts to migrants passing through.

Mark and Miriam 2
Arizona Illustrated

Mark Adams and Miriam Maldonado Escobar have lived on the border and worked with migrants for more than 25 years. The bi-cultural couple both speak Spanish and English with ease, and switch back and forth throughout a conversation. This interview we did in Spanish for a Spanish-language segment of Arizona Illustrated, which will be out in the coming months.

Mark and Miriam are a part of the Douglas-Agua Prieta cross-border community. In September, Border Patrol let the community know they were going to start releasing migrants on the streets of Douglas due to large numbers of people crossing the border. They were looking for assistance from the local faith community.

Mark: “Pero recuerdo lo que dijo un de los oficiales de la Patrulla Fronteriza, dijo, como es una comunidad que no tiene recursos, o muchos recursos. Y yo dije, espera para ver lo que hace esta comunidad. Y es algo que me ha impresionado, la forma en que aparentemente unas comunidades o unas personas parece que no tiene mucho, pero tiene un corazón para abrir y para proveer entonces es un inspiración para mi. Esta comunidad. Es parte de la razón que me encanta vivir en esta comunidad.”

Voiceover: Mark remembers Border Patrol pointing out that Douglas was a community with few resources. And he said, wait and see what this community does. It’s something that has really impressed him — the way that some communities or some people may not seem to have very much, but they still open their hearts and provide for others. It’s an inspiration and part of why he loves living in that community.

Involved in the community on both sides of the border, Mark and Miriam chose to raise their children in Agua Prieta, on the Mexico side. They wanted to live somewhere where all their family, friends and colleagues, who don’t all have visas to cross, would be welcome.

Before meeting, they both migrated to Agua Prieta in the late 90s. Miriam arrived first.

Miriam: “Mi nombre es Miriam Maldonado. Yo soy una migrante. Nací en el estado de Chiapas, y migre a Agua Prieta, Sonora, en busca de un trabajo. Llegué a la frontera cuando no existían los muros que nos divide ahora en nuestras comunidades.”

Voiceover: Miriam is a migrant. She was born in the state of Chiapas, and migrated to Agua Prieta, Sonora, in search of a job. She arrived at the border when the walls that now divide them in their communities did not exist.

She came with her family, who are Presbyterian. They joined the church in Agua Prieta.

Soon after, Mark moved to Agua Prieta from South Carolina to serve with the binational ministry Frontera de Cristo, connected to the church.

Around that time, the border of Douglas and Agua Prieta had turned into the primary place for people to cross undocumented. And the church in Agua Prieta turned into a place of refuge for many people arriving and people who tried to cross and were expelled from the U.S.

Mark: “Nosotros empezamos como ministerio binacional, empezamos preguntarnos cómo respondemos en fe a este realidad de la imigracion, porque en aquel tiempo, pues como ahorita, se escucha mucho temor, enojo, odio en cuanto a las personas que están migrando. Entonces sabemos que esta no es la forma de responder a las realidades de la migración que es parte de la historia humana, ¿no?”

Voiceover: Mark says they began, as a binational ministry, to ask themselves how to respond in faith to the reality of immigration, because at that time, similar to now, there was a lot of fear, anger and hatred about people who were migrating. They know that is not the way to respond to the realities of migration, which is part of human history.

Mark and Miriam and others from the ministry brought food and water to the migrants being expelled from the U.S. Miriam remembers when there were hundreds of people waiting near the border, in the streets of Agua Prieta with nowhere to go.

Miriam: “Una de las necesidades que vimos era cubrir las necesidad de las mujeres que cruzaban embarazadas, mayores de edad, niños y niñas siendo vulnerables en las calles de Agua Prieta y empezamos a llevarlos a la casa para hospedarlos y darles un albergue allí. Nuestros niños eran muy pequeños. Para ellos ver a otros niños llegar a la casa era una alegría. De compartir juguetes con ellos. De compartir un libro para dibujar, un libro para leer. Desde una edad temprana, ha sido parte del ministerio que estamos haciendo ahora de dar bienvenida a la migrante.”

Voiceover: Miriam says one of the necessities they saw was to help the pregnant women who had crossed, the elderly people, the children, who were feeling vulnerable in the streets of Agua Prieta. They began to bring them to their house, to give them shelter. Mark and Miriam’s children were very small at the time, and it was a joy for them to see the other children arrive at their house, to share toys with them, to share books. Since their children were young that has always been a part of their ministry as it is today — to welcome the migrants.

In the early 2000s, Border Patrol’s Tucson Sector experienced even higher numbers of migrants crossing than they’re seeing today. The faith community on both sides of the border saw the need increase, and in 2006 they formed the Migrant Resource Center, which in the last 17 years has received more than 180,000 people, mostly who had been expelled from the U.S. after trying to cross.

Mark: “Humanos se mudan de un lugar a otro, por diferentes razones. Entonces empezamos a pensar cómo podemos responder en fe y no temor a la realidad de la migración. Y a través de los años lo hemos hecho de diferentes formas con la comunidad aquí.”

Voiceover: Humans move from one place to another, for different reasons. So they started thinking about how they could respond in faith and not fear to the reality of migration. And through the years they have done that in different ways with the community there.

Both Mark and Miriam came to the border because of a sense of duty, Miriam to serve her family and Mark to serve the ministry. And at the border they found a way to do that and so much more.

Mark: “Ahora vemos la frontera como un lugar de encuentro, donde nos encontramos, donde formamos familia, pero también es un lugar donde podemos encontrar personas de muchas partes y reconocer el valor que cada uno de ellos tienen.”

Voiceover: Now, they see the border as a meeting place. It’s where they met and formed a family, but it’s also a place where they can get to know people from all over, and get to experience the worth that each one of them have.

Mark and Miriam 1 Mark Adams and Miriam Maldonado Escobar in the Frontera de Cristo headquarters in Douglas, Arizona.
Arizona Illustrated
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