Trip to border leaves lasting impact

By Nicole Osuch
September 20, 2007

Jerome Zurek/submitted photo

Nine Cabrini faculty, staff and graduates returned from a trip to the Texas-Mexico border with a clearer picture of the human face of immigration.

Dr. Kathy McKinley, a sociology professor, said she knew 13 million people are here in the United States illegally and, before the trip, that was just a statistic that she taught her students in a theoretical way but now she has witnessed the human face and emotional dimension of the issue.

The nine Cabrini representatives traveled to El Paso, Texas and its sister city across the Rio Grande River, Ciudad Juarez, Mexico to study all sides of the immigration issue from June 19 to June 23.

The experience destroyed misconceptions that many Americans have about immigrants. The faculty and staff did not find terrorists and criminals but rather that 90 percent of the people struggling to cross the border illegally are decent human beings running from a corrupt economic system. They are willing to work hard to support their families. They are not coming here for a handout but rather a better life.

Through the experience the faculty and staff met with people who had many different ties to the issue including a man who had just crossed over the border to seek work.

“We met someone from Guatemala who has tried seven times to get to the United States but kept getting sent back. The man said that he wished people in America would realize that we are just human beings in search for a better life for our families,” Fr. Michael Bielicki, the chaplain, said. He added that the man will probably not see his family for four years in the process.

“What really tore me about the experience is it showed me the greed here in America.” Fr. Michael said a man about 24 years old is paid 85 cents to fill a bag with onions everyday between the hours of 3 a.m. and the afternoon the next day.

The group lived on both sides of the border with an organization called Annunciation House, which has houses on both sides of the border, serves immigrants who have crossed the border without work documents who are considered by the U.S. government to be “illegal” or “undocumented.” Although the Annunciation House does not help people cross the border, they do provide them with food, clothing and shelter. Faculty and staff stayed in the house for five days.

The group also met a representative of the U.S. Border Patrol. Talking to the border patrol, faculty and staff learned that it takes about two hours to cross the border with a work pass just for the day. During their five day stay, there was a 17-year-old boy shot trying to cross the border.

The faculty who went on the experience included Ann Servey, associate professor of business administration; Dr. Nick Rademacher, assistant professor of religion; Dr. Kathy McKinley, professor of sociology; Dr. Jeff Gingerich, associate professor of sociology; Dr. Nancy Watterson, assistant professor of English and communication; and Dr. Jerry Zurek, professor of English and communication. The staff that went on the trip were Father Michael Bielicki and Wolfington Center staff member David Chiles. Meghan Hurley, an alumna of 2007, also attended.

The trip was sponsored by the Academic Affairs office and the Wolfington Center.

The issue of immigration will impact the future of Cabrini students’ lives because immigration is having a large influence on our culture and economy. Zurek pointed out that many businesses such as restaurants and farms in the United States, could not function without their labor. McKinley said that people are working in factories and getting exploited by American corporations.

For Hurley, Zurek, McKinley and Fr. Michael, they feel change is needed.

“The trip only reinforced my opinions on immigration. I feel that we need comprehensive immigration reform and that higher security measures on the border and building higher walls are not the answers,” Hurley said.

The immigration issue is one that holds special meaning to Cabrini College, since St. Frances Cabrini is the patron saint of immigrants. Zurek, said that if Mother Cabrini were alive, that he is sure she would be working with them.

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Nicole Osuch

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