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Student seminar examines border issues

| Wednesday, January 18, 2017

As part of a Center for Social Concerns seminar centered on immigration and the United States-Mexico border, 15 students trekked to the southern Arizona borderland from Jan. 7 to Jan. 14.

The trip aimed to immerse students into borderland life and allowed them to engage in discussion with humanitarian aid groups, religious leaders, immigration lawyers, Arizona locals and Border Patrol about the controversies surrounding it. Senior marketing major Mackenzie Gray said the seminar offered an in-depth way to “dig into the issues.”

“There are so many different ideas out there about what should be done, and the point of [the trip] was for us to experience what was really happening, and then walk away with our own thoughts and opinions to share with other people,” Gray said.

To prepare for the excursion, the students attended a weekly class throughout the fall semester to read about and debate different perspectives on immigration and the border.

Gray said the students also hiked alongside the Arizona border and distributed water for migrants to drink, learned about the role religion plays in border control, and observed the legal proceedings of Operation Streamline — a policy mandating that all undocumented migrants be entered into the federal criminal justice system. Repeat border crossers face criminal convictions and jail time under the law.

“We met a lot of humanitarian groups who do stuff like put out water and provide aid to people who are in the desert in bad condition,” Gray said. “The people who were leading a lot of the humanitarian efforts are people of faith. We went to Southside Presbyterian Church, where a lot of humanitarian efforts were started, two or three times to train before we went out to the desert.”

Senior anthropology student Margaret Collins said she has always been interested in the humanistic side of migration and was affected strongly by how little the general American population knows about Mexican immigration into the United States.

“This course was extremely timely in that there is a lot of uncertainty on the border regarding the change in leadership within Washington, D.C.,” Collins said. “I believe that no matter where you stand politically, this course allowed participants to witness firsthand the harsh and overlooked realities of the border while maintaining an analytical and dynamic focus on policy.”

Though the students were mainly stationed at a retreat center at the University of Arizona in Tucson for the week, they frequented the border city of Nogales, Arizona.

“The borderlands are tense,” Collins said. “In urban Nogales, there are friends talking to one another through the gaps in the wall, memorials for those killed by Border Patrol, and a clear, tangible division of quality of life between the two sides of the border. In the rural fields, you can see handprints up the slotted wall of migrants who attempted to climb and hop over.”

Collins said participating in humanitarian aid and seeing people physically crossing the border on the hillsides around them was “very powerful.”

“I was surprised to see the variety of people sharing a similar passion for the dignity of the migrant and how many were working to better provide aid to those struggling in the Sonoran Desert,” Collins said. “Seeing what was left on the trails was haunting: torn up jackets, empty gallons of water, disheveled backpacks.

“These reminders of humanity will stay with me as motivations to advocate for those who seek refuge to make a better life for themselves and their families.”

About Kelli Smith

Kelli Smith is a sophomore at the University of Notre Dame. Originally from El Paso, Texas, she currently resides in Badin Hall and is pursuing a double major in Political Science and Film, Theater and Television with a minor in Journalism, Ethics and Democracy.

Contact Kelli