Studying Migration on the Ground
The CPGC-sponsored Migration Field Study program, now in its eighth year, brings students to the U.S.-Mexico border and to Mexico City to glimpse the human face of immigration.
More than a decade ago, long before debates began about a Mexican border wall or a Muslim ban, eight Haverford students, led by Haverford House fellows JeAnne Reyes ’04 and Amalie Andrew ’04, traveled to the Mexico/Arizona border to learn more about the issue of immigration. With the help of funding from the Center for Peace and Global Citizenship (CPGC), Reyes and Andrew, who were then working with an immigrant rights program of the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), led the Haverford delegation on visits to cities and towns on both sides of the line where they handed out blankets to migrants, saw an entire family deported, and interviewed a militia group leader who spoke of his belief that our uncontrolled borders “present a serious terrorist threat.”
That 2005 winter break trip helped birth the Haverford Border Action Group, a student-led effort to raise awareness of immigration issues, and laid the groundwork for what would become an ongoing program at Haverford.
Several years after that first borderlands journey, in the fall of 2009, members of Haverford’s Alliance of Latin American Students went to the CPGC with a proposal: They wanted to learn more about the realities of migration. Only then, they felt, could they be part of the change that they believed was necessary.
They wanted constructive engagement, not just protests,” recalled Professor of History Jim Krippner. “They wanted to help educate people about migrants. They wanted to see the human face of the problem.”
What those students understood, said Krippner, is that “there is a lot of scapegoating and not enough paying attention to the real people involved. When you pay attention, you can find solutions that are more humane.”
Thus, in January 2010, the Migration Field Study trip was born, with Krippner as its first faculty mentor. The now-annual winter break program looks at the sociopolitical, economic, and ethical dimensions of migration and makes personal connections with people whose lives are touched by migration.The field study typically includes a trip Mexico City, where students work with a Quaker nonprofit that provides services to migrants, meet with political leaders about the situation, and, most importantly, connect with migrants.
“They have stories every person with a heart should hear so they’d realize [migrants] are in no way interested in hurting this country,” said Lev Greenstein ’20, who was part of the most recent field study trip in January. “There’s a lot of hate out there for people who aren’t nationals of this country. This experience [has allowed] me to address those misconceptions about immigrants, whether it’s that they’re taking all of the Social Security benefits or they’re taking jobs.”
Eric Hartman, executive director of the Center for Peace and Global Citizenship, said an experiential learning opportunity like this gets students “thinking, feeling, being.”
“It’s always been a vital program, and it’s just become more important,” Hartman said. “The question of how to treat migrants with dignity has always been important, and the current political situation makes it even more so.”
Since its beginnings, the Migration Field Study has been open to eight to 10 students, who must apply for a spot. Pre-trip preparations include readings and discussion. Jason Lozada ’11, who helped start the project with classmate Eric Castillo ’11, said he and his fellow Alliance of Latin American Students members spent a lot of time crafting their applications to better articulate how the program would benefit them.
“Just saying, ‘Hey, I’m Hispanic, sign me up,’ was not what the CPGC was looking for, and it would have been a disservice to the people in Mexico City putting this together,” said Lozada, who had gotten a CPGC-funded internship with the American Friends Service Committee’s immigration office and wanted to better understand the issues. “[The program] was open to the whole campus, so anyone with an interest in immigration or refugee rights could participate.”
In some years, the Migration Field Study has involved a trip to the U.S./Mexican border in Arizona, where residents leave glasses of water outside for thirsty border crossers. Lozada, who now lives in Philadelphia, still vividly recalls a stop on the Mexican side of the border where migrants gathered before attempting to jump on northbound trains: “You’re talking to people from countries like El Salvador, Guatemala and Mexico [who are] leaving their families to embark on this dangerous trip. … Surviving the distance, the train-hopping, the gangs looking to exploit them, Immigration & Customs Enforcement—it’s an immense physical risk to come here and then live in the shadows,” he says. “The main thing they asked us for were gloves to wear when they would try to grab on the trains. Those are subtle things you might not get in an assigned reading.”
In 2015 the field trip was a collaboration with the Earlham College Border Studies Program that took the Haverford group to the Border Patrol station in Nogales, Ariz., as well as a Tucson courtroom. There, they witnessed 70 detained migrants in handcuffs each get just 30 seconds to hear charges, enter a plea, and receive a sentence. Accompanied by volunteers with the nonprofit No More Deaths, the group walked a rocky trail in the desert used by migrants and came across a makeshift shrine with pictures of saints and family members— a poignant plea for protection on the rest of what is often a dangerous journey.
This year, for the first time, the field study began more than 2,500 miles north of Mexico City in Center City Philadelphia office buildings and colorfully painted neighborhood rowhomes that house some of the organizations serving area immigrant populations. The goal was to make sure that students were connecting and understanding the relevance of migration in their own communities.
During their two-day stateside tour, organized by Haverford House fellow and previous Migration Field Study participant Itzel Delgado-Gonzalez ’16, the Haverford delegation learned about the work of HIAS PA, which has been providing legal, resettlement, citizenship, and supportive services to immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers since 1882. In a North Philadelphia rowhouse that is the headquarters of Puerta Abierta, they heard about the organization’s efforts to improve access to quality mental healthcare for Latino immigrants and refugees.
The group also visited Puentes de Salud, a South Philadelphia nonprofit co-founded by physician Steve Larson ’83 that provides high-quality healthcare and innovative educational programs to the Latino immigrant population. And they sat in on a presentation at advocacy group Friends of Farmworkers, which offers legal services and education to low-wage workers.
After traveling on to Mexico City, the group—which included CPGC Interim International Coordinator Elias Mohr— was hosted by Casa de los Amigos, a Quaker center for peace, understanding, and hospitality that often welcomes CPGC summer interns, post-baccalaureate fellows, and other Haverford students. The group learned about the work that Casa does, such as offering temporary lodging to refugees and migrants. The busy field study schedule also included migration-related discussions and presentations with local nonprofits and aid workers.
The group spent one day at Tochan, a Casa-affiliated shelter that offers “medium-term” emergency housing and help with social services to Central American migrants. They also took time to get out of town to explore Teotihuacan, the archaeological remains of the famous Mesoamerican city featuring the famous Pyramid of the Sun monument.
“The best part of the trip, for me, was visiting Tochan, where I was able to spend unstructured time one-on-one with migrants traveling from Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras through Mexico to the United States,” said Rosemary Cohen ’18, a history major from Washington, D.C. She was in part inspired to apply for the trip by Associate Professor Andrew Friedman’s “Harvest of Empire” course, which studies the history and interconnection of U.S. foreign policy and migration.
For others, the trip had personal significance. Vanessa Morales ’19, a sociology major from Santa Ana, Calif., is part of the Haverford Chesick Scholars program, which provides academic mentoring and leadership training for exceptional students from under-resourced backgrounds. One reason Morales embarked on the trip was to better understand immigration policy in America, especially as it relates to people she loves.
“I am personally drawn to studying migration because I have family members who are undocumented back home in California,” she said. “Being worried about them every day, about something that can happen while I’m away from home, is stressful.”
All of the Haverford students agreed that they left Mexico City changed. Yes, they learned a lot about the facts, policies, and challenges of migration, but they also were deeply moved by the people they met and the stories they heard. Many returned home with a newfound desire to get involved at the local organizations they visited prior to the trip. Others have made new connections in their academic work or are inspired to think differently about their post-Haverford futures. (Morales, for one, now plans to return to Mexico after graduation to do more “radical hospitality” work with Casa.) But all were inspired to think deeply about the issues of immigration, citizenship, and borders, particularly as they relate to the new presidential administration.
The CPGC’s Hartman said the college is continuing to develop curriculum related to migration issues, such as Professor Paulina Ochoa’s course “Borders, Immigration, and Citizenship.” Said Hartman, “We’re looking to support students in their ongoing learning experience before and after their field study experience.” Lozada is thrilled that the Migration Field Study program is continuing to impact lives. “America and Mexico will have these discussions for years to come,” he said. “As long as America touts its roots as a land of immigrants but restricts pathways to citizenship, this project will have relevance.”
—Rebecca Raber and Natalie Pompilio