Border fence

Border fence

Border security is an issue that is at the center of the longest partial government shutdown in U.S. history. Amidst the shutdown, several GU students completing the Justice in January immersion trip traveled to two of the nation’s borders to learn about immigration and the issues surrounding it. 

Justice in January is a Center for Community Engagement (CCE) student-led immersion experience that takes place during Christmas break at one of two sites: Tucson, Arizona/Nogales, Mexico and San Diego/Tijuana, Mexico. In addition to the trip, students complete an eight-week social justice class during the fall semester that prepares them for their immersion. 

“This is more of an educational trip,” said Joe Johnston, assistant professor of sociology and criminology. “Along with that, there is so much complexity to immigration that it is really important for students, when they’re going on such a trip, to have foundational knowledge to ask more critical questions and more informed questions once they go on the trip.” 

The trip took place Jan. 6-13. 

“Immigration is such a big topic right now so to actually be able to go and see what’s happening and hear stories from people who are actually experiencing it was a really a really cool opportunity,” said Olivia Salguero, San Diego/Tijuana, Mexico leader. 

Students who participated in the San Diego/Tijuana immersion spent time talking with people from various organizations such as: Casa del Migrante, Deported Veterans Support House and Casa Cornelia Law Center. 

Students who participated in the Arizona/Nogales, Mexico immersion spent time visiting border patrol, working with organizers from the Kino Border Initiative and talking with community leaders and activists. 

“Justice in January was a very impactful immersion experience,” said  sophomore Michelle Cuaresma, Arizona/Nogales, Mexico participant. “Kino Border Initiative went by the following three words: humanize, accompany and complicate (HAC), and that is exactly what we did. Complicated issues like immigration are often polarized, black and white, but on this trip, I learned about the gray area and was able to form my own opinions from first-hand experience on the border- which may look very different to what is portrayed in the news. I would recommend this trip to anyone and everyone.” 

In Tijuana students had the opportunity to have dinner with men from casa del migrante — “house of migrants” — a men’s shelter that takes in men who are attempting to cross the border or men who have recently been deported. 

“I would say the most impactful part for me was probably getting to hear personal stories about people and hear about their connections to this issue,” said Jillian Coleman, San Diego/Tijuana, Mexico participant. “It’s an issue that’s become so political and the humanity has been kind of removed from it, so it was really nice to meet people who are trying to help people who have been dehumanized or people who have been deported and mistreated and actually bring some humanity back into this issue because when we watch it on the news it’s pretty much just politics.” 

In addition to teaching students about the various laws surrounding immigration, the course taught by Johnston also taught students to be more mindful of news sources and to seek out an array of sources. 

Students also had the opportunity to see the current wall and fencing on the boarder as well as some of the prototype of the wall that the Trump administration is pushing for. 

“Given right now, the government is partially shut down and one of the reasons for that, I would say a main reason, is that our current president is demanding funding for a wall,” Johnston said. “I think in the San Diego sector, it is fascinating for students to see the amount of infrastructure that is already in place in that sector.” 

Talking with Border Patrol gave students the opportunity to ask questions and to learn more about the current and future border security goals. 

Johnston, who has gone on the immersion trip for the past three years, recalled that the border patrol agents, whom they spoke with last year, said that they did not need additional infrastructure in their particular sector. This year the agents talked about the need for more individuals to process asylum cases as well as their support for building a wall. 

“[Border patrol] definitely seemed to be sticking to a script pretty tight,” Coleman said. “They were agreeing with things that the government says, as government workers, which makes sense. They didn’t want to disclose many details. They wouldn’t really talk about the emotional side of it at all, like what it felt like to detain people. They stuck basically to the policies.”

Going forward, Coleman and Salguero agree that discussing their experiences from the trip with others will be a good way for them to share what they have learned.

Sidney Jones | Staff Writer 

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