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Casa Mariposa restores broken lives

The front entrance of Casa Mariposa west of downtown Tucson. (Photo by Baraha Elkhalil)

In a quaint house west of downtown Tucson thrives a local intentional community dedicated to helping the voiceless and fighting injustice in the wake of immigration reform.

The movement, initially known as The Restoration Project, began almost a year after a group of people met at a Sitting Tree community gathering in May 2008. After talking, they realized they share the same vision of living peacefully.

Eight years later, the project has evolved into Casa Mariposa, a community known for its welcome arms, open doors and don’t-ask policy pertaining to the work of immigration and the U.S. Mexico border.

The focus of the community lies in “helping those who are stuck in the web of immigration,” said John Heid, a long-term core member.

Heid has roots in social work since 1984 when he first began his community involvement. He has been with Casa Mariposa since its beginning in March 2009 and has lived in the community house since September 2010.

Casa Mariposa is comprised of core members and the extended community. The extended community includes volunteers who help with the doings of the organization, while the core members live in the house and provide the planning of Casa Mariposa. The members agreed to each set aside $200 a month toward the community. They are encouraged to work part-time to focus on the needs of the organization. Four long-term core members, including a former Eloy detainee of two year, live in the house now.

In addition to the money contributed directly from the core members, the heart of funding lies in the community of Tucson. Random monetary donations made by individuals who support the community, monetary donations from the local Quaker meeting, grants awarded to the visitation project from churches, and food donations are all a part of the networking process that is vital to Casa Mariposa. Heid describes it as an “invisible web of people” who donate to the community in support of the cause.

The community is best known for its hospitality and Wednesday night public dinners, but efforts run deeper among the members and volunteers.

One of its key programs is the visitation project, a group of volunteers who visit detainees at the Eloy Immigrant Detention Center.

The project features a rotation of three groups that make trips out to the detention center, located halfway between Phoenix and Tucson.

The volunteers visit twice a week to meet with up to 50 inmates.

Efforts aim toward providing mental support to those who do not have family who visit or need someone to talk to. Volunteers usually stay in touch by writing letters and cards.

The community also has formed a relationship with bus stations that receive migrants who lack appropriate resources to get where they need to go.

“They’ve come all the way through Mexico,” Heid said. “They’ve been in the desert sometimes for days, most of the time not so long and then they’re put in detention with really limited food and resources and then they’re dumped at the bus station. What happens here was showers, dinner and then packing food for them to take on the bus. …”

Casa Mariposa has worked with churches, activist groups and humanitarian aid organizations, including Derechos Humanos, No More Deaths, Humane Borders and the Florence Project. Casa Mariposa Sin Fronteras is a separate entity from Casa Mariposa that focuses on LGBTQ affairs in immigration.

Marjorie King, the former coordinator of the project from 2012 to 2016, works as a volunteer of the extended community.

King began her journey with Mariposa in September 2011 when two friends, then volunteers, reached out to her for assistance with Chinese translation at the bus station.

King works directly with people, especially those getting out of detention. She is also the main facilitator of the visitation project.

“It was very compelling when I started meeting the people, especially the women with the children,” King said. “These are people just like anybody else and I just started saying to myself, ‘I wish that everybody in the United States would just have an hour or two with the immigrant mom and her children just to realize how much like us they are.’ ”

Casa Mariposa, when able, provides individuals with bond money and gives thousands a place to stay. It donates food and clothing to those in need, and listens to those who are part of the immigration community.

The community does not keep record of the number of people who walk through Mariposa’s doors.

“Our system doesn’t help them at all. They’re completely at our mercy,” King said.

Baraha Elkhalil is a reporter for Arizona Sonora News, a service from the School of Journalism with the University of Arizona. Contact at Belkhalil2979@email.arizona.edu

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