Natural disasters, civil war and political unrest on several continents drive millions of people from their homes each year. Countless families seek refuge in other countries, where they hope for a fresh start. Over 11 million undocumented individuals have come to the United States to build a new life. Who are they, and what are the issues that led to their migration? In March 2016, SUNY Oneonta students traveled to the U.S.-Mexico border to meet some of them and learn their stories.
Meet Daisy Paz, an Africana and Latino studies and criminal justice dual major from Westtown, NY. Since Daisy was eight years old, she has wanted to be an immigration attorney. Daisy, like many young adults across the U.S., has family members who migrated to the United States from Mexico. She also has known several people who crossed the border illegally and now live here undocumented.
BorderLinks is a nonprofit based in Tucson, AZ, that focuses attention on cultural understanding and the human side of mass migration. The six American and four international students from SUNY Oneonta who participated in the BorderLinks program did so in part because each had a personal connection to the immigration issue.
Over the course of five days, students toured several communities along the Arizona/Mexico border, learning about the issues migrants face there. Lecturer Alejandra Escudero, who is originally from Venezuela, feels that an immersive experience is the best way to understand a culture. “Being this is an election year, I thought this was very relevant, with all the discourse in the media... I think it’s something very important for students to live and experience first hand,” she said.
To find out more about the places students visited, click on the pins of the map.
One of the most powerful experiences was the desert walk. Students walked for two hours across the Arizona desert in 90-degree heat, following trails used regularly by immigrants battling the unrelenting sun and evading capture by the U.S. Border Patrol.
“As a future educator I feel I need to learn about situations like these, because I could have students who come from these backgrounds in my classroom. I’m not an immigrant myself, I don’t know anything about that experience. Getting a green card, getting a visa, any of those things, let alone coming across the desert illegally without any other options. I thought it would be really interesting for me to learn and experience these things first hand so that I could take them back to my classroom and further relate to my students.” Maegan Crawford
“I was on the phone with my mom yesterday, and she told me ‘As bad as it sounds, it’s a reality of everyone trying to cross the border. It’s just with a different story.’” Cindy Lopez-Pas
The border between the United States and Mexico border is 1,989 miles long. Natural and manmade barriers separate the two countries. One of the most widely used border crossings is located in Nogales, AZ. A city of just over 20,000 people, it is separated from the city from Nogales, Mexico. Culturally and historically, Nogales may be one community. But a steel fence 18’ high splits it in two.
“You just can’t put up a wall. You can’t just cut off and militarize the border. There’s roots here not only for the families that have been here for decades, but the Native American settlements and indigenous people who have lived on what is called the ‘U.S. Territory’ for centuries, and that just can‘t be eliminated because of a wall.” Mary Bilecki
Through BorderLinks and one another, students gained a deeper appreciation of the complexity surrounding immigration, both in the United States and globally. “Everyone had a different angle to see these things from, whether you came from a small town in New York or your parents came from a different country. Everyone learned a lot from each other, almost as much as from the experience.” said Megan Crawford. “If everyone came from the same background, the experience wouldn’t have been as interesting, because we would have had all the same things to say.”
“My parents have always told me stories about when they crossed, but actually seeing it and getting a new perspective on what actually happened, it reassured me of what I want to do in the future once I graduate. I want to be an advocate for people dealing with immigration issues.” Cindy Lopez-Pas
BorderLinks Storify: Students shared their experiences during their trip using social media.