A short walk from the border, in the Mexican city of Nogales, Sonora, sits a modest building packed with long, cafeteria-style tables. The comedor, as it’s known locally, is clean and inviting, with space for up to 60 guests. The walls are decorated with hand-painted images of Christ and his apostles, done in the style of a children’s book. Tucked away in one corner of the room are medical supplies, stacked and organized in plastic bins. Sister María Engracia Robles Robles, a nun with the Missionary Sisters of the Eucharist, floats from the kitchen into the common area, serving hot breakfast and lunch to anyone who needs it.
The comedor was born out of work Robles and two other nuns began in 2006. At the time, Arizona was the epicenter of migration along the border and the site of a major humanitarian crisis. While people headed north were dying in the desert in record numbers, a growing deportation machine was sending a steady flow of survivors to Nogales. The nuns began feeding the deportees out of the trunks of their cars. In 2008, they secured the property where the comedor now stands. Officially run by a coalition of organizations known as the Kino Border Initiative, its first iteration had no walls. There was no relief from the desert heat. When the monsoons came, the nuns walked through standing water to serve food.