BorderLinks, a binational organization educating people about the realities of the U.S.-Mexico border, has always been good at getting personal without thinking small. More than a thousand people from the United States participate in its educational delegations each year, and almost all stay overnight and break bread with families in the colonias (poor neighborhoods) of Nogales, in the state of Sonora, Mexico.
"What distinguishes BorderLinks is that it's very relationship-based," says staff member Heather Craigie. That commitment has stayed constant during the past 15 years, as the group has become a vibrant combination of community center, think tank, conference catalyst, micro-enterprise innovator, and educational tourism bureau.
Born in the late 1980s as part of the sanctuary movement, BorderLinks initially brought delegations to the U.S. border to experience the realities faced by refugees from U.S.-supported conflicts in Central America. Today, the group focuses on globalization's impact. NAFTA-induced changes in farm policy are driving many former campesinos to U.S. service jobs or low-paid urban labor pools for Mexican maquilas (foreign-owned export factories), and communities face health problems, massive poverty, crime, and environmental devastation.