Cabrini Border Experience

By defaultuser
September 20, 2007

Dr. Kathleen McKinley
professor of sociology

I teach a junior Sem 300 on Wealth and Poverty. In that course we study the

impact of globalization, U.S. trade policies and corporate practices on the poverty of less developed countries. When the Wolfington center sponsors student trips to the border, I always encourage mystudents to go to learn first hand about the maquiladoras, the factories on the Mexico side of our southern border and to

meet the people who were risking their lives to come to this country to find employment. When the opportunity presented itself to go with other Cabrini faculty on this trip I felt privileged to be able to meet and speak with people living the experiences we discussed in class. For me this trip put a human face on the key questions we must all address as we look around the world today: fairness, justice, caring and most importantly our moral responsibility to others.

Ann Servey
associate professor of accounting

I returned from Cabrini College’s Border Awareness Experience overwhelmed. Processing the information seemed an insurmountable task. The day I arrived home I was asked to share my experience with an Adult Contemporary Issues class the next day. My internal reaction was “No way, I could not possibly prepare a talk in time.” Externally, reluctantly, I said “Sure.”

As always my global interest peaks after a visit to an area and any discussion of the immigration issue grabbed my rapt attention. The day we left I had clipped an article from the El Paso Times to read later.

Later was here and I was reviewing and processing the information from the study tour in preparation for my impending talk. This article by Chris Roberts, El Paso Times, June 23 titled “Immigrant copes with tragedies, detention” and the Border Awareness Experience gave me my voice and prompted me to state the obvious. To summarize the article:

“Veronica Villa, mother of eight children, an undocumented immigrant has lived in the United States for 14 years. She attended her father’s funeral in Juarez and on June 10 she was detained by the U.S. Border Patrol while trying to re-enter the United States and faced immediate deportation. Her husband visited her regularly at the detention center. One day he arrived too early and was told he couldn’t see her. Before he could return to the prison, he was killed in a single-car accident. In two weeks, Veronica lost her father, her husband and she was detained.

For humanitarian reasons, she was given a different process by the Border Patrol. Veronica was reunited with her children and was permitted to remain in the United States at least until her court case is resolved. Veronica’s release took longer then expected and she was unable to attend her husband’s burial.” (El Paso Times, 6/23/2007)

No fence, no wall should separate families.

Dr. Jeffrey Gingerich
associate professor of sociology

The trip for me was powerful in terms of the experience of being on the Mexico-U.S. border. Even though I try to keep up and educate myself on the issues of immigration to the U.S., it was really transforming for me to stand on the border fence, and to watch young children peaking through the fence to the U.S. side, while large Border Patrol SUV’s cruised nearby. Things that seemed so rational from far away in Pennsylvania, suddenly felt very irrational during the time we spent at the border.

Dr. Nicholas Rademacher
assistant professor of religious studies

The Border-Awareness Experience provided faculty the opportunity to see first-hand the complexities surrounding immigration from the perspective of key players on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border. The trip enriched my knowledge and understanding of the immigration issue, which will in turn enrich my work in the classroom. The topic is relevant to many of the classes that I teach from Liberation Theology, which has to do with ending economic and political oppression, to the history of the Catholic Church in America, which centers on the stories of immigrants. The dignity of the human person is at the center of Catholic social teaching as are the concomitant rights that we all have with respect to the common good: a right to life and the means to develop as fully as possible as human beings. We also have the obligation, at both the institutional and personal level, to enhance one another’s access to what will fulfill basic human needs such as but not limited to food, clothing, shelter, and meaningful work. While most of the attention on the issue of immigration, both legal and illegal, focuses on the institutional response (i.e., what is the government doing?), during this trip, when the human side of the debate overcame the abstractions of policy debate, my attention turned to the personal response. What can we do in our everyday lives to overcome the divide between rich and poor, to help the people who come here in search of those things that will help them become more fully human? In part, the answer was in the terrain – the desert – a place where, in the history of Christianity, women and men would go in search of solitude, to find God by overcoming that self-centeredness that separated them from God. In reading a meditation by Thomas Merton, who wrote a half-century ago, “Everywhere is desert,” I was reminded that the struggle for survival at the border is not limited to the people on both sides of the fence who are still there engaged in that daily effort. Rather, the struggle is present in each of us everyday, in the search for God and the over-coming of self-centeredness; the struggle continues even here as we strive to fulfill our responsibility to ensure the dignity of all persons not only at the institutional but also at the personal level through thoughts, words, and actions.

Dr. Jerry Zurek
communication professor

The fight over immigration puts the label of “illegal” on many Spanish-speaking people in the United States. On this trip, I met so-called “illegals.” I met men sleeping on a hard tile floor of a large room like Jazzman’s Cafe, rising at 1 a.m., to be chosen by farming companies to work from 3 a.m. until 2 p.m., picking peppers under a scorching sun. What they told us they want is the opportunity to work hard, at jobs that we Americans need to be done, to make a better life for their families. I found that the problem is not that they are “illegal.” The problem is that we in the United States are more interested in partisan politics than in fixing a broken system.

Nancy Watterson
communications professor

Such an experience vivifies solidarity so that it can become a part of

our everyday lives, our “daily walk,” as we listen, learn, live simply

with the poor and marginalized, and educate to make injustices visible.

The trip was very meaningful to me and has allowed me to bring this

understanding back to my students.

Meg Hurley
Class of 2007

The trip to the Texas-Mexico border only reinforced for me the fact that what the country needs is comprehensive immigration reform. Hearing the perspectives from all sides of the issue, including Border Patrol, residents of border towns, and a labor rights organization, really put a human face on the issue. What had the most impact on me, however, was talking to a man who had recently crossed the border into Texas from Guatemala. He left behind three children to come and find work because there aren’t any opportunities for him in Guatemala. Hearing his story firsthand makes it obvious to me that the focus needs to be on making paths to citizenship and offering more worker visas instead of spending money on more sensor equipment and building bigger walls along the border. Most immigrants are just looking for work to support their families and make a better life for their children and that needs to be taken into consideration along with the security issues when the laws are being made.

Fr. Michael Bielecki
resident Chaplain

Originally, I did not plan to go on the boarder experience because I have traveled to Mexico on many occasions and thought that the ticket could be more beneficial to someone who had never been there. However, the trip was very beneficial, not only because of the insights I experienced about life on the boarder, but for having had the opportunity to spend time with some extraordinary people whom I pass daily on this campus, but did not really know very well. I am grateful for the insights those professors exhibited on this trip and the work they do in educating the hearts and minds of our students.

What I quickly realized is that the boarder is a very unique place. It is very different from life in Mexico City or other parts of Mexico I have been fortunate enough to visit. Observing the daily struggle of the people living on the boarder made me realize something about the privileges I possess in my life. I have taken for granted so many things and not realized that for those less fortunate, daily life is a struggle.

It made me realize that I could be content with much less than I possess. It reawakened in me an appreciation for the vow of poverty which I took forty years ago. The vow of poverty doesn’t make me destitute, or cause me daily struggle, as economic poverty does for people less fortunate than me, but it does mean that I do not possess personal property or an endless fund from which I may draw to possess everything I might desire. The vow of poverty has taught me that I must make decisions about what I will buy, and not buy. It makes me realize there is a big difference between “needs” and “wants.” It means that I must learn to put less concentration on me and more on God, less on what I want and more on what the poor need from me. Calculating the cost of following Jesus means that I must choose to be less consumerist and more simple in my tastes.

A favorite saying of mine from St. Thomas Aquinas is: “what the eyes do not see, the heart does not desire.” For example, think of the last time you went to the mall just to “look” around. How many bags did you return with and what did you purchase? Was what you purchased a want or a real need? Frequently, what we “want” immediately becomes a “need” when we see it. “I just have to have that!”

People living in economic poverty cannot enter into that discussion at all because they are concerned about what they need for survival. They struggle for the daily necessities like food, clothing, and shelter.

You are probably aware that Cabrini has employed a new cleaning service. Many of the employees are Spanish speaking and I have been privileged to have had conversations with some of them. I admire these people because of the stories they have shared with me. Many of them are working hard to support a family and have come to the USA, not for the American dream, which is often a nightmare, but just so their families could have a better standard of living back home. Those I have spoken with are people who have an admirable sense of self-LESS-ness. They are hard working people who appear content and grateful to be able to work.

The boarder experience was for me another opportunity to ask myself if I am placing the common good above my own wants and could I possibly learn to share more of my time, talent and treasure with others less fortunate than myself. It also renewed my respect for the dignity of people seeking to work for the betterment of their lives rather than for the greedy motivation of having more stuff.

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