December 6, 2017

Hun Students Travel to Border Town, Study Immigration Issues First-Hand

ON THE BORDER: Hun School students and their teachers experienced the complexities of immigration first-hand in the border town of Nogales, Arizona-Mexico, for four days in October. They visited an immigration court, a shelter for deported immigrants, and a Border Patrol station, and met with officials, immigrants, ranchers, and others as part of their Global Immersion experience. (Photo Courtesy of The Hun School)

By Donald Gilpin

Seven Hun School students and three teachers recently went to a United States-Mexico border town to examine first-hand the thorny issues of immigration.

As part of the school’s Global Immersion program, focused on experiential learning and designed “to humanize the immigration issue, recognize its complexities, and encourage critical thinking,” the group visited the town of Nogales on the Arizona-Mexico border.

Their experiences over a four-day period from October 19-22 included attending an immigration court, where they saw dozens of undocumented immigrants deported; visiting a shelter on the Mexico side, where they served meals and listened to stories of recently-expelled immigrants; talking with victims of domestic and sexual violence in a women’s shelter; listening to Border Patrol agents explaining their roles and responsibilities; and talking with U.S. ranchers who were dealing daily with illegal border crossings.

The students did not come away with clear-cut solutions or definitive answers, but instead found their knowledge and understanding of immigration expanded, deepened, and significantly enriched. “It’s had a great effect on me,” said Adam Zucatti, a senior who plans to continue global immersion experiences in college. “To go there and experience it myself is the best way to learn.”

He continued, “I think I was misinformed before I went. This experience brought to light the need to look into these issues more deeply. The women’s shelter had the biggest effect on me. There were two women from Mexico, one from Guatemala, and hearing their stories brought to life what issues specifically women face.”

Zucatti, a Wrightstown resident, concluded, My biggest take-away was that being humanitarian has to take precedence over politics and parties. These are people, too, and treating them like they aren’t is beyond wrong. It’s dehumanizing.”

Ava Petrecca, a senior from East Windsor, described herself as “politically driven, politically active,” and interested in the topic, but “immigration was something I was confused about. I wanted a true first-hand experience. I wanted to know more.”

After hearing from ranchers who wanted more protection for the border but were also concerned for immigrants, from Border Patrol agents, and also from a man who lost his arm in a train accident as he was trying to immigrate, Petrecca expressed sympathy for both sides.

“Government officials, as we did, should experience this first-hand,” she said. “Lack of information is prevalent in the U.S. It’s important that people see the situation first-hand.”

Anish Durvasula, a senior from Montgomery, described the trip to Nogales as “a wonderful opportunity” that has humanized the news for him as he reads and hears about immigration, DACA, and the debates in Congress. “The people we met and the experiences we had solidify my memories. I can say we talked to people and here’s what they said about the wall, about immigration, and drugs. My world view has become more complicated, more educated. I’m competent and confident to speak out for people and express my opinion as a result of this trip.”

Durvasula recalled a visit to a site on the Mexican side of the border where a 16-year-old boy had been shot by the Border Patrol. “It’s a situation I’ll never forget,” he said. “They are more similar to us than we think.”

Trip leader Pauline McKean, Hun’s director of global engagement and teacher of the school’s Global Issues course, emphasized the power of first-hand involvement in the subject matter, meeting and talking with the people who are involved on all sides of the issue.

“I was humbled during this program,” she said, “because I felt I had solid views on the topic. But we got to look at it from a 360 view, and I ended up having more sympathy than I’d had before for the people who have ranches on the border. You listen to them and their stories and you understand why some people want better security on the border.”

Returning to the theme of complexity — “I want them to walk out of my class with more questions than answers,” McKean said. ”We need a more humanistic approach to these issues. Our policymakers can be so far away from the reality of the situation, and it benefits everybody to view these issues with humanity, whether it’s the ranchers or the people who are migrating or the Border Patrol agents. We need to look at it through more of a human lens and realize we’re talking about real people.”

Next stop for McKean with Hun students in the Global Immersion program is Nicaragua in March. The program also has trips planned to Ecuador, Greece, and Montana in June, and to Arizona, also in June, for middle schoolers on a history, culture, and adventure journey.