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DU students confront harsh realities of immigration and the U.S.-Mexico Border


A volunteer shows class members abandoned items from the migrant trail, teaching students about the human side of immigration control.By Margie Thompson

Connecting to the brutal realities of immigration and border cultures through immersion was a very powerful experience for seven DU students who traveled to Tucson, Arizona and the US-Mexico border for a course taught by Margie Thompson and María Suárez Toro during the 2013 summer interterm, June 9-15, 2013.

"In one day, I have been humbled, moved, given goose bumps, impressed, inspired, angered and horrified by the very actions we have to work to stop, and ready to take on... the advocacy ...to move forward and help others in the borderlands and beyond, " said Emma Lynch, a graduate student in Media, Film & Journalism Studies after the first day of the class.

A blog created by the students reflected the intensity and impact of visiting an immigration detention center to speak with migrants, and walking in the blistering heat of a migrant trail through the Sonora Desert to see numerous backpacks, pieces of clothing, water bottles and other items abandoned by those seeking to cross the border into Arizona. Makeshift memorials commemorated the growing number of migrants who are dying in the desert, and a bra hanging in a tree was a chilling reminder of what all too often happens to women who are sexually assaulted along the way.

The desperation of those seeking a better life or frantic to reunite with families resonated at each site we visited, aware that the United States has often played a role in contributing to conditions of war, poverty, unemployment and misery in Central America and Mexico that leave people with few options but to try to reach the United States.

"Imagine the desperation you would have to feel to leave your home and loved ones behind, to risk your life in the desert, in hope of a job that might pay minimum wage if you are very lucky," reflected Kristin Morgan, a student in the course.

But the overwhelming despair, fear and sadness was most strongly reflected when we saw the faces of migrants arrested by the Border Patrol, and sent through Operation Streamline in the Tucson County Courts, their hands and feet shackled with chains, much like cattle.

Kenny Hood, a graduate student, posted a comment in the blog after the course: "Now, almost a week later, the dust has settled somewhat. But the impact has remained. I am forever changed by what I saw, heard and learned in the Arizona desert, my life's course forever altered."

Suárez said, "In today's context it is very important for students and professors to undertake courses that expose both to the harsh realities that no theories or media, as comprehensive as they might be, can present the complexities that the voices of those affected bring to our academic and activist scope.The fact that in this course the students created their own social media blog and produced academic papers that are grounded in what they heard, saw and lived in the border, speaks to an enriched way of producing knowledge where the voiceless have their own voice. "

The class was comprised of six graduate students in programs ranging from the Master of Arts in International & Intercultural Communication, the MA in Media, Film & Journalism Studies; Anthropology, Human Rights in the Joseph Korbel School of International Studies, and a senior majoring in political science.

The course was conducted in collaboration with Borderlinks of Tucson AZ, an organization that has hosted educational delegations for the past 25 years.

Margie Thompson is an associate professor in the Department of Media, Film & Journalism Studies, and María Suárez Toro is a longtime adjunct instructor in that department.