by Sami Hausserman, Intern
In the past, immigration was something I only thought about when I saw it on the news. It wasn’t until I visited the border myself that things started to change. As part of a class on immigration justice, my peers and I went to Tucson, Arizona and got a closer look at what exactly people are experiencing as they try to enter the U.S.
At first, I was nervous to commit to the trip. I didn’t know many people in the class and I wasn’t very familiar with the nuances of immigration issues at the time. I had never paid much attention to politics and didn’t have a solid grasp on the policies in place. My lack of knowledge made me feel out of place, like I wasn’t informed enough to make a difference there. However, through the class, which IJPC program manager Samantha Searls co-taught, I really learned all that I needed to know to go on this trip and become even more informed and ready to take action.
This trip turned out to be one that challenged and changed many people’s perspectives, including my own, and motivated all of us to strive to bring light to our country’s broken immigration system. While there, we witnessed firsthand the dehumanizing criminalization of immigrant men and women in what is called Operation Streamline. People who had been apprehended at the border are lined up in a courtroom, and a mass guilty plea is solicited from groups of as many as 50 people at a time. We walked through the very desert that these, and hundreds of other migrants, have trekked in attempt to find safety in this nation.
At Florence Detention Center we saw and heard the stories of many detained immigrants. One man seeking political asylum had been incarcerated for close to ten years. His story was one of the most impactful to our group. He shared how different his life had been as a congressman in his home country before being forced to leave due to his political beliefs. To think that he had his life and his family ripped away from him was heart wrenching. It was one of a few times on the trip that I found myself brought to tears by someone’s story.
As conditions at the border have come into public light, elected officials as well as passionate constituents have taken trips similar to mine. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), Rep. Joaquín Castro (D-TX), and other democratic representatives have been highlighted in the media after their visit to two border facilities in Clint and El Paso, Texas. They have tweeted pictures from inside the facilities of the crowded cells, crying mothers, and have made claims of the poor treatment of migrants by border agents. Headlines described their trip to our southern border as an “eye-opening” experience that was cause for “outrage”, and it most certainly is all of those things.
Shortly thereafter, Vice President Mike Pence, as well as other Republican representatives also visited border facilities. Though they didn’t deny that those being detained here are in poor living conditions, they framed it as the fault of a system that is overwhelmed and without the correct funds to function. Republican Texas Representative Michael McCaul has since spoken out, saying that the conditions are the worst he’s ever seen, and calling for humanitarian aid for those living in these detention centers.
Though the eye-opening and enraging nature of these trips is important, they should not be limited to that. Yes, outrage is important, but it is not enough. The invirgoration sparked by these trips and these photos must be turned into action. We have to get past the feeling that there isn’t anything that we can do, and figure out ways to plug in to local organizations where we can make a difference, no matter how small.
Upon returning from our trip to Tucson, my class worked with community partners in the Cincinnati area on projects that would benefit immigrants in our area. I’ve had the opportunity to continue working on these projects during my summer internship at IJPC, and some of us will be continuing into the next semester. We pushed through the initial overwhelming feeling of hopelessness, and found a way to make whatever difference we could. It’s time for others to do the same, and call for comprehensive immigration reform that will create a system that’s equitable for all. IJPC has many ways to get involved, including the Immigrant Dignity Coalition, a group of local organizations working to build power and forge a community for immigrants in the area. Check out IJPC’s event page, and subscribe to our emails for more ways to get involved!