Sister Jodi Min and seven students participated in the Border Lives Immersion trip in the Arizona/Mexico border area in April, which exposed students to the complexity of immigration. The trip combined service, culture and education, and gave students a chance to reach out to people affected by the difficult situation at the United States/Mexico border.
“We talk about social justice at Saint Mary’s, and that’s why it’s important to educate students about immigration,” said Sr. Jodi, who has been leading immersion trips at the College for three years. “I want them to be informed voters. I want them to speak up when they can and talk to their representatives if they can because that’s the only way things will change.”
The students participated in a wide range of humanitarian efforts, including bringing donations to families who have built cardboard homes inside a garbage dump. “That image is forever ingrained in my memory,” said Philip Goodwin, who decided to return next year on his third day. “We were going to areas that most people would never normally travel to. We were delivering clothes to families who normally don’t get new clothes every couple of weeks like we do. Living out Concern for the Poor, helping those who we wouldn’t normally help––that’s what embodies the Lasallian traditions.”
Students volunteered at orphanages, served meals to migrants at the Kino Border Initiative’s kitchen, and placed water along the much-traversed migrant paths of the treacherous desert in a humanitarian attempt to provide sustenance for migrants in the blistering terrain. Students also visited the Arizona courthouses where they witnessed the federal program Operation Streamline in action. The students saw 70 people processed in about an hour, said pre-law student Jotti Aulakh. Students interacted with both sides of the argument, speaking with nonprofits, the Bishop of the Diocese of Tucson, the coroner’s office and Border Patrol.
Amidst the heaviness of the trip, the students said they found peace with their host families, who welcomed them into their homes, offering love and food. “We never felt we were intruding on them,” said Aulakh, whose entire body perked up at the mention of her host family, a couple with whom she and her roommate spent their first night talking and playing guitar.
“I can’t think of one service or immersion program where people didn’t realize, ‘Oh my God, they’re just like us. We’re just like each other the only difference is we’re born in a different situation,’” said Sr. Jodi. At the end, she asked, “Where did you see God?” Amelia Chantarotwong remembered answering, “In everyone.”
“One of Saint Mary’s core values is respecting the dignity of the human person. Until we change our policies I think people’s dignity is being squashed, and the students’ getting out there and letting people know they’re interested, that they care, that they want to do something about it raises the dignity of the people that they’re meeting, that they’re serving,” Sr. Jodi said. “People are touched to know that they care enough to come all the way down there to find out more about it.”
“Creating a conversation about the issue is the biggest thing we can do,” Goodwin said. “By talking about it, people will at least know the truth from the fiction.”