Students learn life lessons taught at the U.S. – Mexico border

In June, a group of recent CRSM graduates took a trip to the U.S.-Mexico border as part of an immersion program where they were able to hear and witness the first-hand stories from the migrants most intimately impacted by the recently-heightened plight of immigrants.

Students from CRSM traveled for five days with their peers from St Viator High School in Arlington Heights, arriving just as the issue of immigration in the U.S. was causing an international uproar over the 2,300 children who were separated from their parents. The parents were sent to jail because of the zero-tolerance policy that calls for the criminal prosecution of anyone caught crossing the border illegally.

“Almost each day we walked along the wall next to the port of entry into Nogales, Sonora,” said Christina Dippold, CRSM counselor and one of three educators traveling with the four CRSM students and eight others from the Northwest suburbs on the Viatorian Border Immersion trip June 15-19, 2018. “We spent a lot of our time accompanying migrants. We served food at a soup kitchen for deported migrants. The students were amazing. They really listened to people’s stories and provided some most basic support.”

The walks along the border took place along what once was an invisible line in the sand separating the U.S. and Mexico. It’s now a gargantuan 25-foot fortress with mesh slats. They took on even more significance when one of the CRSM students shared that her mother and uncle, her mom’s brother, had fled Mexico through this same port.

“Being there was overwhelming and heartbreaking to see all these separated families, these innocent lives being ripped apart,” said Dippold. “But it was also extremely powerful to think of our student’s mom risking everything for her family. And to look at her and know that because of the courage her mother had and what she sacrificed, she is here today and has a beautiful future in front of her.”

Many of the stories were from people seeking asylum as well as others recently deported, and the volunteers who risk their own safety to help them find new hope across the border. Students also observed immigration proceedings in federal court and met with a humanitarian aid worker who walks with ranchers along the Arizona border who were doing what they could to help.

Representatives from the Border Patrol also met with students to discuss the “why” behind what they are doing and their rationale that it is “their duty to protect the borders.” Much of the exploration on the trip was intended to uncover the myths being served up, such as that the zero-tolerance policy is protecting the U.S. against drug trafficking. And, to get a factual and closer look at who really is fleeing across the border include a rising number of young boys attempting to escape the stranglehold of gangs.

In reality, most of those camped out and waiting to be processed at the port of entry were fleeing violence, extortion, violent partners and extreme poverty and hoping to find new hope in America, said Dippold. Despite the unbelievably difficult journey they are embarking on, many shared tales about how going back would be a death sentence.

Underneath the educational surface, the trip created powerful spiritual lessons for the students and guides, said Dippold. When asked by Fr. Corey Brost, who led the experience, “Where do you see Jesus in your day?” Dippold says she immediately could see the stories of Mary, Joseph and Jesus. The group held a mass at the fence, just an arms-throw from the watchful eyes of the border patrol.

“These parents had faith that bounded them in their travels, faith that by crossing over the border, they could create a better life for their children,” said Dippold. “It brought to life Mary and Joseph fleeing to save their family.”

“The trip was also grounded in the Catholic church’s teaching on immigration, that we need to understand the plight of the migrants fleeing their homelands while also working to create ethical, accessible pathways for immigrants already living in the U.S. to become legal citizens,” said Dippold. “When you put human faces on this story, it becomes much more complicated and much more pressing that we understand what is really happening.”

Students also learned about violence along the border, and spent a day in the desert walking the migrant trails, meeting with volunteers from an organization called Green Valley Good Samaritans, faith leaders and humanitarian aid workers who leave water and food in the desert in an effort to assist sick or lost migrants along the dangerous journey.

Faith was at the core of all that they witnessed among these families, she said. Faith that they would make it across Mexico. Faith that U.S. officials would let them in. Faith they wouldn’t be separated once they crossed over.

“Faith is what sustains them,” she said.

Despite the fact that torrential rain fell in Chicago and delayed the journey home for an entire day, re-routing the CRSM travelers by plane through Atlanta to Milwaukee, and then onto a bus ride to Kenosha and a van ride back to Waukegan, Dippold says she was inspired by the commitment students expressed to use their education to help raise awareness and understanding of the complexity of the immigration debate.

“One of the students insisted, ‘when I go to college I am going to come back and do something to carry all of this forward and make a difference,’” said Dippold.