Hardships and Hope: A Panel on Immigration at the U.S.-Mexico Border

Bryan Dewan, Maroon-News Staff

On Thursday, September 24, the Center for Women’s Studies hosted a panel discussion titled “Gender and Immigration at the US/Mexico Border.” The talk highlighted research that several faculty members from Colgate University and Skidmore College recently completed, concerning the impact of the United States/Mexico border crisis on communities and individuals. Visiting Assistant Professor of Spanish at Skidmore College Diana Barnes, Colgate Professor of Sociology and Women’s Studies and Director of Women’s Studies Meika Loe and Assistant Dean and Director of International Student Services at Colgate Christina Kahn spoke on the panel. Zoe Coleman, a Skidmore student involved with the research, also presented on the panel via Skype.

The speakers discussed their research on the hardships faced by migrants, as well as their own experiences travelling to the U.S./Mexico border. Their research, which was funded through a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon foundation, focuses on challenges that migrants – especially migrant women – are likely to face as they travel through Mexico and into the United States. Barnes spoke about the risks for women while attempting to cross the border.

“Around 80 percent of women understand that they will encounter rape,” Barnes said.

Panel members told the audience how they met a woman during their visit to the border area who had been kidnapped during her journey. She was trying to escape poverty and domestic violence in Central America, an all-too-common occurrence.

The panel members spoke about the many difficulties that these individuals trying to cross the border face. Many immigrants arrive at the border severely dehydrated and hungry, and many do not make it across alive. Once across the border, immigrants face economic, political and social hardships as they attempt to integrate into a society that often rejects them. Women often arrive pregnant or with young children, which creates additional obstacles to establishing a decent, new life in the United States. The panelists argued that U.S policy is responsible for much of the hardship faced by these immigrants, noting how the United States spends an overwhelming amount of money on securing the border and deporting immigrants. Additionally, the panel members spoke of the devastating impact border-related violence has on

local communities.

Though their research revealed some of the negative elements of human nature near the border, the panelists spoke highly of several groups doing outstanding work and exemplifying tremendous generosity towards those in need.  While in the area, the researchers had a chance to visit and volunteer at a number of local organizations dedicated to helping recent immigrants.  Coleman worked for a charitable organization near El Paso, Texas that provides destitute women and children with basic supplies, clothes and other essentials. She was able to work one-on-one with five to six families a day, an experience she described as

illuminating and life-changing. 

Other organizations included the Kino Border Initiative in the Mexican border city of Nogales,  Sonora which provides food to hungry travelers. The Biblioteca Infantil in Anapra, Juarez provides books, school supplies and financial support to schoolchildren affected by border-related violence or destitution. The panelists also spoke of an Arizona woman who collects items and clothing left behind by travelers in the Sonoran Desert, with the hope of preserving the memory of those who make the journey to the border.

The panelists urged students in the audience to get involved with organizations helping immigrants at the border, and they encouraged the audience to try to raise awareness about the injustices of U.S. policy towards immigration.

“[I] was appalled by the amount the United States spends on border security and detention centers,” sophomore Woohee Kim said. Kim also noted how she felt more aware of the impact U.S. policy has on ordinary immigrants after attending the panel discussion.