Ms. Courtney Smith ’17 stands with immigrants fighting against Title 42


Ms. Courtney Smith ’17 volunteers full time with the Kino Border Initiative.

Sacred Heart Greenwich alumna, Ms. Courtney Smith ‘17 is working as a full-time volunteer at the Kino Border Initiative (KBI).  The KBI is a binational organization located in Nogales, Sonora, Mexico, and Nogales, Arizona, the primary migration sphere between Mexico and the United States, according to  Ms. Smith arrived in Nogales, Mexico September 12 and spends her time working with people who face immigration challenges such as Title 42.  Using Philippine Duchesne’s aphorism, “for the sake of a single child” as a guide, she is working to provide humane conditions for immigrants and effect more ethical immigration policies.  

Immigrants protest Title 42 on the Mexican side of the border. Courtesy of Ms. Courtney Smith ’17

Ms. Smith attended Georgetown University where she studied both Government and Psychology.  During her freshman year spring break at Georgetown, she went on an Alternative Break Program through the Center for Social Justice and came into contact with the KBI.  After graduating, Ms. Smith recognized that she wanted to engage in volunteer work, and recalling her memorable experience with the KBI, she enrolled in the program as a full-time enlistee.

KBI’s objective is to create just, humane, and workable migration policies.  The California Province of the Society of Jesus, Jesuit Refugee Service/USA, the Missionary Sisters of the Eucharist, the Mexican Province of the Society of Jesus, the Diocese of Tucson, and the Diocese of Nogales established the KBI, January 2009.  The KBI serves primarily three demographics consisting of people deported from the United States, people intending to cross into the United States, and those that are seeking asylum. 

Following World War II and the formulation of the United Nations (UN), representatives, including Eleanor Roosevelt, drafted The Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  The UN General Assembly published the United States’ first example of a pledge to support the right of those who seek asylum to evade oppression in their countries, according to

Title 42 of the United States Code addresses public health, social welfare, and civil rights.  The government originally implemented Title 42 as a part of the Public Health Services Law in 1944.  It prohibits people from countries that the Surgeon General identifies as posing a risk of introducing a communicable disease from entering the United States, according to

The Trump administration implemented Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) at the Arizona border January 2020, according to  This procedure required about 70,000 migrants in need of asylum to wait for their court dates on the Mexican side of the border.

Towards the beginning of COVID-19, March 20, 2020, the Department of Health and Human Services advised Mr. Robert Redfield Jr., director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), to reimplement the use of Title 42, thus preventing people from entering the United States, according to  The act does not apply to United States citizens returning from such restricted countries, creating a dispute about selective quarantine and an infringement on the right for people to look for asylum.  The CDC, through the Biden Administration, extended Title 42 August 2, 2021.  The justification again fell to COVID-19 protocols.

The KBI provides many humanitarian services such as an Aid Center for Migrants (CAM).  The CAM serves two meals a day to recently deported migrants and also provides clothing and basic personal care articles.  The KBI allows access to social workers, psychologists, physicians, and lawyers if needed.  Additionally, the staff works directly with migrants to get them into the United States, setting up meetings with migration officials, and sharing the migrants’ stories, enabling officials to perceive their lives beyond the border, according to Ms. Smith. 

Ms. Smith’s tasks vary from day to day.  Usually, she begins working in the kitchen at 7:30 a.m. to prepare the meals for migrants delivered at 9 a.m.  Ms. Smith also works in the “roperia,” or the CAM, where KBI stores and sorts clothing donations.  Many migrants arrive at KBI after walking through the desert, therefore needing clean clothes, toiletries, and access to a shower, according to Ms. Smith. 

Ms. Smith works in the Nazareth House, a shelter, from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m.  The shelter serves as a refuge for women and children in severely vulnerable circumstances where it is unsafe for them to be living in Nogales.  Ms. Smith’s job is to keep the children company.  She described how each plan shifts depending on the events of the day. 

“Sometimes we drive to drop them off at a different shelter or go to drop off unaccompanied minors.  Every day is a little bit different, but there are always exciting things happening,” Ms. Smith said.

Ms. Courtney Smith ’17 enjoys building connections with the migrants she assists.  Courtesy of Ms. Courtney Smith ’17

Ms. Smith appreciates each interaction and connection, especially while working with children and families.  She enjoys having conversations with each person and getting to know them and their story.  Ms. Smith described the new relationships as a privilege.

Additionally, Ms. Smith recounted her awe for the strength of the human spirit each day in Nogales.  The migrants at the border motivate her through their perseverance in a battle to make a better life for themselves.

“Their desire to keep up the fight even when it seems impossible is just so inspiring.  They are energized and enthusiastic even though they are going through some of the worst circumstances you could possibly think of,” Ms. Smith said.  “If I am tired or things are not going well, and they are able to get up every day and hope and with excitement toward the cause, then so can I.”

Channeling the passion demonstrated at the border, Ms. Smith plans to take what she learns at the KBI and bring it back to Washington D.C.  Long term, she aspires to focus on formulating policies and programs that encapsulate migrant’s rights.  Ms. Smith recognizes that while there are administrators who care, they do not completely understand migrants’ experiences and needs.

As an alumna of Sacred Heart Greenwich, Philippine Duchesne’s adage “for the sake of a single child” has resonated with Ms. Smith in Nogales.  She believes that much of the KBI’s work is about loving people exactly where they are and knows that if she can make a difference in someone’s life, it is worth it.

“What we are doing, even if it might seem really small, actually means so much to people who need to feel heard,” Ms. Smith said.  “It is for the sake of a single child. If I know I have helped a single person and if they know that they have value, are seen, heard, and loved, that is what keeps me going.”

Featured image by Charlotte Burchetta ’22