Peering through a small two-inch hole in the rusty primary fence I came face to face with eight tall, sleek dystopian like walls. The eight prototypes that President Trump had ordered to be constructed stood there towering over us.
Over the winter break I spent a week at the border with a group of students from Gonzaga University. The purpose of this trip was to learn about the complex, convoluted and highly politicized topic of immigration from various different perspectives. Half of our time was spent on the American side of the border, in San Diego, and the other half on the Mexican side in Tijuana. This proved to be an incredible opportunity to hear stories and direct facts from governmental as well as non-profit agencies involved with this issue on a variety of fronts. We spent time learning from the experiences of individuals and groups such as, The American Friends Service Committee, Water Stations, Mothers of Dreamers, Deported Veterans, and Border Patrol, among others.
Most impactful, to me personally, was hearing stories of men and women who served the United States Armed Forces and after committing a crime, usually non-violent, (such as a DUI) would be deported for life. These are Veterans who had legal residency status, VA benefits, as well as strong ties in the U.S. prior to being deported. My heart and my mind couldn’t make sense of this injustice. Even the title “deported veterans” seemed like a sick paradox. These men and women risked their lives fighting for our nation, now their only option to return to that nation that they served and love is in a box, to be buried in the national cemetery. More information about this can be found here.
This was my second year participating in Gonzaga’s Justice in January immersion experience. The previous year, our trip came in the shadow of Trump’s inauguration, hence the overall sentiment was one of uncertainty and fear. Thus, when compared to this year it proved fascinating to experience the changes in tone, taking into account the physical and conceptual changes that had occurred in the past year. The impact of strong rhetoric, hate-filled sentiment (on both sides of the aisle), and bold action had left many negatively impacted. Yet, like was the case with the Mothers of Dreamers, it has also led them to assume a strong sense of resiliency, and encouraged them to seek solace in solidarity and community.
Overall, I have come to the conclusion through these experiences that perspective and story changes everything. For me, in my educational as well as humanitarian pursuit of a more profound understanding of immigration, nothing has compared with having the opportunity to learn first-hand accounts. Especially when contrasted to the polarized information and tenacious opinions regarding the wall, migrants, and immigration in general, which are so frequently distorted, dramatized and dehumanized by our media outlets. Being born and raised in Washington State, I have found that the impact of geographical distance between us and the US-Mexican border has had an effect on our apathy to learn and know the truth of the matter, for a large majority of us. This issue may feel considerably far away, yet this immigration crisis has and will continue to affect countless individuals all around us. We must recognize the reality that immigration is an issue that has been constructed into a huge humanitarian crisis, and a politically heated debate (one that unfortunately, now is being used as a bargaining tool), and it is not going away anytime soon. Regardless of which side of the aisle you sit on, it’s still our responsibility, as U.S. and global citizens, to learn from differing perspectives, seek out personal stories, facts and develop a thoughtful, educated “intellectually-empathetic” perspective toward this whole situation.