Seminar explores border issues
Carolyn Hutyra | Monday, January 20, 2014
While snow virtually buried the Midwest during winter break, 11 Notre Dame students traveled down to the desert of southern Arizona for the Center for Social Concerns (CSC) Border Issues Seminar.
According to the CSC website, the seminar, which took place Jan. 3 to 11, was meant to “expose students to diverse perspectives about [the] Mexico-U.S. border and immigration issues.”
Seminar director and sociology professor Kraig Beyerlein said the experience is formative for students.
“I just think it’s one thing to read and intellectually talk about things, and it’s a whole different experience to actually see what’s going on on the ground,” Beyerlein said. “I think it can potentially change people in a way that you can’t just do in a classroom setting.”
The goals of the border class and seminar are three-fold. Beyerlein said the first is to provide “an intellectual, educational framework to understand broader debates about immigration, mostly from a sociological perspective.”
Beyerlein said the second goal of the class is to provide a unique, distinctive lens for understanding immigration in light of Catholic Social Teaching. The third goal is then to take students to the border for firsthand experience.
Although the class is not allowed to cross the border due to security issues, Beyerlein said students are able to approach the wall and, in some areas, see through it.
“From the students’ perspective [it’s] frustrating, but I also understand the constraints given the security issues,” he said.
As part of the seminar, Beyerlein said students participated in legal proceedings, humanitarian service with a group called the Samaritans, border ministry work, work with Catholic Charities and travel, all within the context of religion and immigration.
Prior to the trip, students attended class, wrote a preeimmersion pape, and watched the documentary ‘Crossing Arizona,’ which recorded personal accounts of crossing the border. Beyerlein said as much as students anticipate the experience and imagine what may occur, post-immersion papers always indicate the students’ experiences are not what they expected.
Beyerlein said students saw migrants being sent back across the border to Mexico.
“About 60 migrants are processed in an hour and a half, which is pretty fast,” he said. “I think just seeing the migrants in the shackle – I think that’s a pretty hard experience for students.”
Beyerlein said normally, migrants who are caught crossing illegally are returned to the Mexican side of the border. Those who are processed through Operation Streamline, a government program that files criminal charges against illegal migrants, receive jail time for a period of 30 days.
“If you’re caught again, the jail time keeps increasing up to the point where it can actually be a felony,” he said.
Students who have participated in Beyerlein’s seminar have gone on to work in the Peace Corps, humanitarian organization, and internships in Washington, D.C.
“Part of the seminar is for students to figure out their position on immigration, what they should do,” he said. “I do think it’s great to see continual engagement about the issues.”
Senior Maggie Duffy said she initially participated in the seminar her sophomore yea, but also served as the seminar’s student leader this past year.
Since her sophomore-year experience, Duffy has worked with a local immigration lawyer, added a supplementary major in Latino Studies, and spent several weeks in Arizona last summer, working with the humanitarian organization, No More Deaths.
“One of the most important aspects of the seminar is … [meeting with] people who deal with the issues of immigration on a daily basis,” she said. “Seeing the passion and commitment that all these people have for protecting the rights of migrants and working towards change in our country is truly inspiring.”