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Emily Wilson, a 2011 Border Studies Program participant (pictured far left), listens to a representative from CEDICAM, a leading organization dedicated to revitalizing agriculture in southern Mexico though native seed saving, reforestation, organic farming, and focusing on local markets rather than exporting. Leaders from CEDICAM say they see massive levels of migration to the United States and believe that by revitalizing the countryside people will be able to stay home and live healthy lives.

Border Studies Program offers glimpse into latest immigration crisis

August 13, 2014

As a volunteer coordinator at Casa Mariposa in Tucson, Ariz., Beth Lowry is on the front lines providing humanitarian relief for Central American immigrants living in transition.

Three years ago, she was trying to understand the immigration story and the humanitarian crisis she had only read about in the news as a participant in Earlham’s Border Studies Program.

“My desire to do the program was born out of this great ignorance that I sensed about the United States’ immigration policy and other issues impacting the border,” Lowry says. “This program really served to make connections about what it’s like to be at the border in this moment in history and understand how we got to this point.”

Today, Border Studies is offering other students with Lowry’s curiosity a front-row seat of the changing face of immigration. With reports of 60,000 unaccompanied immigrant children arriving at the U.S./Mexico border in the last year, students can gain perspective on the unfolding humanitarian debate as thousands of children are either detained or allowed to enter U.S. public schools this fall.

“There are a lot of controversial issues that resonate across the country that are really palpable here,” Border Studies Program Residential Director Riley Merline says. “We’re seeing first hand how important family reunification has become to immigrant families. Kids are trying to find their parents and wives are trying to find their husbands. The cyclical migration that has existed for the last 90 years doesn’t really exist in the same capacity anymore.”

Based in Tucson, Ariz., Border Studies combines coursework, homestays with immigrant families and excursions on both sides of the border. Known for activism around immigrant rights and borderlands militarization, Tucson is an ideal setting for students to connect with scholars, farmers, migrants and indigenous and state officials who can speak on the issues.

Like Lowry, many program participants build on their Border Studies experience by working or volunteering for humanitarian agencies in the Borderlands and beyond.

They include Alex Cook, who is working with advocacy group Migrant Justice in Burlington, Vt.; Oto Alves da Silva ’13, who is working with minors living in detention for ProBar Asylum Representation Project in southern Texas; Tory Johnson ’13, who is a program assistant on domestic policy at Friends Committee on National Legislation in Washington, D.C.; and Grace Schoenlank, who works for the Immigrant Law Group in Portland, Ore., and is an organizer for the Portland Central America Solidarity Committee.

“My hope is that there are enough people who are bearing witness to this humanitarian crisis and that I’m among them,” Lowry says. “Now, I feel like I can be some kind of voice for the humanization of migration and stop looking at the border in these black and white terms by adding texture to the conversation and debate.”

Apply for spring 2015 

The Border Studies Program is accepting applications for the spring 2015 class until Oct. 17.

The program is open to eligible Earlham students, and other students attending Macalester and Lewis and Clark colleges, and other institutions affiliated with the Great Lakes Colleges Association.

For more information, visit http://legacy.earlham.edu/~borders/resources/howtoapply/index.html.

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Earlham College, a national liberal arts college located in Richmond, Indiana, is a "College That Changes Lives." We expect our students to be fully present: to think rigorously, value directness and genuineness, and actively seek insights from differing perspectives. The values we practice at Earlham are rooted in centuries of Quaker tradition, but they also constitute the ideal toolkit for contemporary success. Earlham is one of only 40 national liberal arts colleges ranked among U.S. News and World Reports' "Great Schools at a Great Price."

Brian Zimmerman is director of media relations at Earlham College. He can be reached at (765) 983-1256 and zimmebr@earlham.edu.


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