It is Monday, March 13th, and by now we have all arrived to our homes or our next destinations. After a week of living so close together it is nice to have alone time, our own space, and (most importantly) time to think and process. All of us feel as though we have a deeper understanding of the situation on our Southern border, and for this we feel privileged and thankful. You can learn a lot in a classroom, but taking this learning and putting it in the real time context of what you are learning about is valuable, and not something that happens every day.
This cannot be an isolated and compartmentalized experienced, and thankfully, because of the nature of our class, we don’t foresee that it will be. We had been studying border issues for 2 months prior, and we will continue to study border issues for 2 months after this travel seminar. Many of us see it as our duty to share what we have learned and seen with other people, both at Kenyon and in other communities we are a part of.
It is easy to turn a blind eye to these issues when we confine them to the wall that divides U.S. and Mexico, but to do so is dangerous. Not only does such action ignore the daily struggles of people on both sides of that wall, but it also fails to remember laws like 287g, which in effect makes 100 miles in from any coast or land border a militarized zone that can be patrolled.
The land that is covered under 287g accounts for two thirds of of the U.S. population. The ideas of the border zone thus affects us all, and the issues immigrants struggle with near the U.S. Mexico border are happening all around the country, yet on a lesser known scale.
We must remember, as Cy reminded us after we witnessed Operation Streamline, that even if we feel opposed to how Border Patrol and policy treats immigrants, we as Americans are complicit in this situation. Our tax dollars go to what we witnessed, as well as many other practices that we find unethical or dehumanizing.
So let us circle back to the question that we posed after our first full day at the border:
Where do we go from here?
After just one week, we are in no way experts on the situation at the border, but we do know a lot more than when we left. The situation is complex, and there are still things we don’t fully understand, numbers we can’t provide you with. Because they don’t exist. Because migrant crossings are unregulated and dangerous, because we as a country put Prevention Through Deterrence into effect which funnels crossers into dangerous desert areas with the intention of having the desert do the dirty work.
So, first of all let us not ignore the situation, and from there let us realize that even if we are far away, and the border is not a part of our everyday lived experiences, we are still able to help and there is still much to be done. As the humanitarian group People Helping People articulated to us, their organization began when they realized they could no longer wait for policy changes that weren’t coming. We can tell people what we have seen, share with our Kenyon community, and make sure that any Kenyon student who wants the opportunity to take this class and travel to the border has the chance and means to do so. We can delve further into the intersectionality of immigration issues with environmental issues, like how the physical wall causes flooding in some Mexican border towns and prevents animal migration, or how the privatization of prisons links together immigrant detainees to the mass incarceration of young black men, as we observed in the new documentary 13th. We can look further into what we can do for the immigrants in detention in the prison that is only 40 minutes away from Kenyon’s campus, where apprehended undocumented immigrants are criminalized and put into prisons with real criminals. We can do research on whether Mount Vernon or other places in Ohio offer safe spaces or know your rights opportunities for undocumented immigrants in our area. There is much to be done, even from the far away land of the Kenyon bubble.
This experience has been impactful and valuable. Growing up we are taught that America is the land of the free and the home of the brave, that anyone from anywhere can come here and achieve the American Dream. This is not the case, and we as a class, as a community, and as a country must not become passive and complacent to these very real issues having to do with immigration. We will not sit back and let families get torn apart, or let innocent people get criminalized and deported back to countries in which they are endangered and unable to support themselves or their families.
We want to thank Cy, our fearless leader, Borderlinks, for housing us and educating us, all humanitarian aid groups we met with who shared with us willingly and openly, and Professor Jennifer Johnson, who orchestrated this trip and opened our minds to a new kind of applied learning that we have never experienced before.
We are also thankful for each other. It is too often that we sit side by side in a class with someone and learn together about intensely emotional things yet never really get to know each other. This week however, we have been safe spaces for each other, we have learned and discussed and come to a greater understanding of the issues of our border with the support of each other. We have been inspired by each other’s ideas and we have pushed each other to see this issue as more than black and white, to hear the dialogue of people we don’t agree with.
Lastly, we want to thank all the migrants we met, who relayed to us their stories with kindness and bravery. We hope for their futures.