Cutting through Mass Media Rhetoric: The Actual Border Experience

Colgate Sophomore Residential Seminar (SRS) students reflected on overarching concepts introduced in Professor of Economics Nicole Simpson’s Economics of Immigration/SRS course, as well as on their own experiences visiting the United States-Mexico border this past January. Sophomores Bonnie Chin, Sahil Lalwani and Domen Xu led a discussion on their perspectives and facts about immigration at the Border Experiences Brown Bag held in Lathrop Hall on Thursday, Feb. 27.

The discussion began by exploring connotations associated with the word immigration. Various answers given by students in attendance included personal references to immigrant parents, mention of the fact that motivation behind migration is rarely talked about and acknowledgment of the difference between undocumented and documented immigration. Discussion leaders explained that the majority of the information about the border is made available through the filter of political elites and mass media rhetoric, which, according to Chin, Lalwani and Xu, works to stir public opinion.

Within the discussion, Chin, Lalwani and Xu each recounted meeting with United States Border Patrol Agents Antúnez and Mena who had changed their impression of Border Patrol. Antúnez and Mena are part of the sector of Border Patrol Agents that cover over 264 miles of territory on a daily basis, including desert, river and land. One of the agents, born and raised in the Mexican border city of Juarez, said that the main purpose of Border Patrol is to promote the safety and well-being of the U.S.

SRS students and sophomores Kate Maro and Bridget Boerger provided context behind information gathered during the group’s meeting with Antúnez and Mena in the Economics of Immigration course blog.

“The increased quantity and frequency of crossings [beginning in December 2018] caused several sections of borderlands to go unpatrolled in favor of assigning agents to the busier ports. Cartels, specifically the Sinaloa Cartel, took advantage of the opportunity to traffic drugs across the border and into all regions of the United States,” the blog said.

Maro and Boerger explained how that information has influenced people’s perception of immigration and asylum.

“The prevalence of drug activity has, in turn, led some agents to question the motives of asylum seekers coming into the country. It was around this time when the Family Separation Policy came into effect. [Antúnez and Mena] claimed it was not a crisis, but instead a time that necessitates greater attention to border traffic and funding of resources,” the blog said.

Chin stated that they later met with Founder of Green Valley Samaritans (GVS) Shura Wallin, whose mission is to save lives and relieve the suffering in the Arizona borderlands.

In the Economics of Immigration course blog, SRS students and sophomores Hilary Almanza and Mark Moreira further detailed Wallin’s efforts in aid through GVS.

“Wallin described aiding across the border in El Comedor by serving hot meals and first aid to migrants that come [to] rest there. The main work Shura described the Green Valley Samaritans doing was in the desert by performing desert searches and water drops for migrants facing the harsh unforgiving conditions of their journey,” the blog said.

Chin said the group completed a small portion of the desert walk GVS does every day and how this walk, coupled with an exhibition of the objects found in the desert, was pivotal to her understanding the gravity of this journey.

“It was truly an eye-opening experience,” Chin said.

From there, the SRS student group was introduced to the Florence Project, a non-profit legal service organization that provides free legal representation and social services to detained immigrants. The SRS students emphasized that, more often than not, immigrants do not receive adequate counsel and that the Florence Project is a keystone in this constantly evolving legal environment. The group was able to see the work the Florence Project does by attending Deportation Court hearings. According to Xu, every immigrant during these proceedings is essentially told to plead guilty in order to avoid prolonged detainment. These individuals are automatically deported to their home country with a felony or misdemeanor on their permanent record.

“The court hearings are public and everyone should go to one if they can. You will not understand it fully unless you see it first-hand,” Xu said.

The Brown Bag discussion ended with a mention of the phone application FindHello, through which local services connect to immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers to help them settle in new environments. Lalwani places emphasis on the importance of efforts such as these.

“Immigrants are part of this nation’s identity and are statistically linked to innovation; we should appreciate them and help them,” Lalwani said.