U students study social justice issues, immigration in the U.S. and abroad

Students will travel in groups of 12 this spring and summer for hands-on learning.

Ellen Wilkinsonís winter-break trip to the West Coast was a life-changing experience.

ìTijuana (Mexico) hit me at the core,” she said. ìI feel different now that Iím back and things that used to matter to me are so insignificant compared to what Iíve seen there.”

Wilkinson, a Spanish and political science junior, took part in a University YMCA Immersion trip to San Diego and Tijuana to study social justice issues related to immigration.

This spring break, May term and summer, groups of 12 University students like Wilkinson will depart to different parts of the country and world.

The goal of each trip is to study a unique social justice issue, observe the causes and effects of that issue and volunteer to combat the injustice, said program coordinator Jenny Delaney.

Past trips examined the government in Washington, D.C., violence against women in Mexico and gay lesbian, bisexual and transgender issues in San Francisco.

ìWe like to think that being removed from the problem brings about an objective and beneficial solution, but I think being removed Ö is dangerous and produces rash decisions,” said trip participant and American and Spanish studies senior Rebecca Lahr.

Wilkinson and Lahrís experience took them to where it was possible to be truly immersed in immigration: the San Diego-Tijuana border.

Trip co-coordinator Megan McCormick said that at one time the 14-mile stretch of border had the highest number of illegal border crossings.

After the 1995 Operation Gatekeeper legislation was passed, however, border security significantly increased and successful illegal crossing drastically decreased, she said.

Despite the security, McCormick said the problems of immigration remain today.

To better understand the complex problems, students met with people on all sides of the issue, including U.S. Border Patrol officials, a member of the Minuteman Project and a member of Angeles del Desierto, or ìDesert Angels.”

The group also spent much of its time volunteering in Tijuana at Casa YMCA. The building houses youths caught by Border Patrol and sent back to Mexico.

Back home, the group continues to provide service to their fellow YMCA. Immersion aims for its participants to ìGo Global, Act Local.”

Until March 10, the University YMCA is accepting public donations of new socks, underwear and toiletries for the migrant youth of Casa YMCA.

Family and social science senior Anthony Turner will be among the Immersion program participants bringing the supplies to Casa YMCA this spring break.

Turner said he hopes ìto show the groups we visit that we as American students really do care about them.”

University learning abroad resource adviser Scott Daby said students might participate in Immersion or similar programs ìfor a more challenging, independent and hands-on learning experience outside of the classroom.”

Turner said their trip will be much different than many other spring break trips to Mexico.

ìFor most Americans it is a place to go party and get souvenirs, but for our group, we will actually get to know the people of Tijuana,” he said.

Freelance Editor Emily Kaiser welcomes feedback at [email protected]