Over MLK weekend, I went with other 8th-, 9th-, and 10-grade BJ teens to Arizona. The goal of the trip was to learn about what immigration in America looks like today, so we met with people who are on all sides of the issue, including undocumented migrants, a Homeland Security Agent, and a retired Border Patrol Agent.
We were able to walk next to the actual border wall, and seeing it in person was really interesting. It’s crazy to think that it didn’t exist a few years ago and now there’s barbed wire and dead grass, and that a town was even split up by it! As we walked past the wall, we noticed clothing stuck in it, which was really melancholy and made me realize that these immigrants, and the whole issue, is real and is more than just a story on the news.
Hearing everyone’s stories was really impactful. On the last night of the trip, we each had a chance to share our most valuable experience. For me, it was hearing Eddie Chavez Calderon’s story. Eddie works for Arizona Jews for Justice, and he told us about his experience crossing the border from Mexico at age 5 and growing up with his mom. He talked about how they went to Burger King right after crossing the border, and later, on the bus, we drove by that actual Burger King. That was a “wow” moment for me and really helped me understand what he went through.
Most of the DACA recipients spoke about how being undocumented affected their lives growing up in ways I never had to face. They talked about how they didn’t have certain opportunities that I take for granted, like getting help from the government for college tuition or getting a driver’s license, and how they had to leave their families behind. Eddie even mentioned that they couldn’t go to his grandmother’s funeral in Mexico so they had to watch it on FaceTime.
When we spoke to the agents, we heard the flip side of the issue. The Homeland Security Agent talked about all the rules he has to follow and gave thoughtful answers to our questions so we could see how complicated the system is. When we heard from the retired Border Patrol Agent, we realized that it’s also hard for the agents to figure out what to do. He told us that there was a big difference between their training and the actual experience of being at the border, because even though the agents are told that the job is hard and dangerous and they learn how shoot guns, the reality is that there are real people involved and they should be treated humanely.
Hearing all the stories firsthand, and seeing the places they talked about, has helped me shape my own perspective. When I came home from Arizona I went through some resources we were given by speakers and did my own research about how to help—I even convinced my mom to donate money and told my friends to help, too.
The trip helped me discover a voice so I can help people in need. I learned that even though I don’t live in a border state, I can still help people reach asylum.