On Thursday, Jan. 31, approximately 30 students gathered to discuss the United States-Mexico border and immigration from Central America.
The workshop, organized by the Latin American Student Union (LASU), was titled “Everyone vs. Immigrants.” Lowis Ortega, community engagement coordinator for LASU and a junior majoring in political science, said the event aimed to educate students on the history behind the crisis at the border and the experiences migrants face when seeking asylum in the United States.
“Migration is always a pressing issue for the Latinx community, but specifically now with the Trump administration,” Ortega said. “At the border in Mexico, in Tijuana and Baja California, there’s a lot of violence, a lot of inhumane treatment [of] migrants trying to seek asylum, and there are a lot blurred lines, so we’re just trying to clear stuff up with this workshop.”
Natalie Muñoz, president of LASU and a junior majoring in Latin American and Caribbean Area Studies, said the workshop also focused on shifting the negative narrative regarding migrants.
“Oftentimes, the hateful rhetoric that comes from Trump dehumanizes all of the migrants,” Muñoz said. “So one goal is to rehumanize. [Another] goal is understanding the root cause of what’s happening in Central America. And then I’d say the last is to understand the steps that a migrant goes through, understanding what happens from the moment they decide to leave their country to entering the United States.”
The event began with a briefing on the caravan crisis at the United States-Mexico border. Since June 2018, the border has seen increasing waves of migrants making their way north through Mexico, most originating from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, according to LASU organizers. The migrants are escaping a renewed surge of violence, poverty and corruption throughout Latin America.
On Tuesday, a new immigration policy took effect, forcing certain asylum seekers to wait in Mexico while their cases are processed in the United States. The policy, implemented by the Trump administration, reversed a long-standing policy that allowed asylum seekers to live in the United States during the asylum process.
Carol Cabrera, an intern at LASU and a freshman majoring in business administration, read two migrant narratives out loud, asking students to think about whether their cases would qualify for asylum in the United States. One case involved a young woman in danger of being sexually assaulted, and another told the story of a migrant facing oppressive working conditions. Neither would be eligible for asylum in the United States.
In December, Muñoz said she visited a detention center in Dilley, Texas and heard from hundreds of women preparing for their asylum hearings. Muñoz said E. coli bacteria was found in the water in Dilley, but the women and children at the center were not made aware of the danger. Muñoz also voiced concerns with detention center regulations that prevented her from sharing her own food or water with the migrants.
Jessica Flores, a sophomore majoring in human development, said she believed the event was necessary for spreading awareness about the realities of immigration at the southern border.
“These are things that not many people know unless they have a family member who has gone through it, so I think that’s really important to talk about, especially in today’s world,” Flores said. “I’m studying human development so that I could become a social worker to help with these cases, especially the child cases, and I really hope to go down there even just to provide emotional support.”