Adriane López- Raising Awareness, Raising Compassion

OCE Student Profile Series

by Laura Stephens

Adriane López understands the power of information. She realizes that often times, when people lack compassion for others, it is often simply because they don’t know the real story. This problem can be especially challenging in issues like immigration. But Adriane is determined that the real stories will be told, and does everything she can to make that happen. At the Latin American Studies Program events she helps to coordinate, she can see in the faces of the attendees and in the questions that they ask that their perspectives are changing, and their hearts are becoming more open. And when people look at those around them as truly human, that is when real compassion can grow.

Office of Community Engagement: How are you involved in community engagement at William & Mary?

Adriane López: I work for the Latin American Studies Program, and through this position, I’ve been able to help put on events to educate our campus community about important human rights issues. These events ranged from screening the documentary Food Chains and hosting the Coalition of Immokalee Workers from Florida to facilitating a roundtable discussion on immigration and human rights in Argentina and at the U.S.-Mexico border.  We also held cultural events, like the concert by a Brazilian band called Marcelo Fruet & Os Cozinheiros. Check out our Facebook page to stay updated with upcoming events!

OCE: How has this work contributed to community needs?

AL: By inviting guest speakers to come to our campus, and holding documentary screenings and open discussions, I think we have created a space for anyone who is interested in Latin America, and human rights more broadly, to continue learning about the complexities behind various issues in the region. While considering how to solve these issues may seem overwhelming and daunting, focusing on specific stories shared by individuals through an in-person discussion or a documentary remind us of the lives affected by such struggles against injustice and human rights abuses. These stories stick with you long after they have been told, and serve as a motivator to keep learning and working towards social change.

OCE: What does active citizenship mean for you?

AL: For me, active citizenship means taking note of the world beyond what you know and are familiar with, and integrating yourself through education and relationship building with different communities. It requires one to seek out experiences that present an opportunity to see life through a unique lens.

OCE: How has your experience working in the community affected your educational career at William & Mary?

AL: I would say that it has allowed me to grow as an individual—to be mindful and aware of the world around me, and to be empowered by the experiences and stories that people have shared with me. Working in the community has also provided me with valuable leadership skills, particularly with being able to relate to individuals and create meaningful connections among different groups.

OCE: How do you plan to use what you’ve learned as an engaged citizen beyond William & Mary?

I hope to continue being able to listen to people’s stories and use these experiences to inform policy. As a Public Policy major, I have enjoyed learning about the policy-making process, what is considered, how different views are balanced, and so on. I enjoy being politically active and encouraging those around me to take an interest in social justice/human rights.

OCE: What is the most memorable or striking moment you experienced during your engagement work?

AL: In late March, Mike Wilson, a human rights and border activist, came to campus for a few days. His presentation on his work at the U.S.-Mexico border was incredible; he shared the daily struggle for life that goes on at the border. He referred to the situation at the border as “Manifest Destiny 2.0,” and called for coalition building to overcome institutional racism. As a first generation American, the topic of immigration hits home for me. Being that we are on the East Coast, and thus very far from the U.S.-Mexico border, it is easy for many of us to overlook the human rights violations that are going on right now, at this very moment, in our country.  Mr. Wilson’s presentation was tremendously powerful for me and for many other students. Seeing how well-attended his lecture was, and the interest that many individuals took in his work made me realize how important it is to bring a topic like immigration to the forefront of our campus discussion, as there is much work to be done.

Mary Ellen Garrett- Big Acts, Individual Focus

OCE Student Profile Series

by Laura Stephens

Dynamic, driven, compassionate and fun are all words I would use to describe Mary Ellen Garrett. With her wide variety of social justice interests, including protecting the environment and advocating for immigration reform, it is obvious that she understands that community engagement is complex and multi-faceted. However, she never loses sight of what it is all about- she also has a strong desire to meet individuals where they are and make personal connections. Also, she’s been skydiving, so that’s pretty awesome.

Office of Community Engagement: How are you involved in community engagement at William & Mary?

Mary Ellen Garrett: Well, I think it depends on your definition of community engagement. I’ll first mention my most conventional “community engagement.” I co-lead a Catholic Campus Ministry service learning trip during spring break. We travel to Richmond to engage with the elderly poor, the formerly incarcerated, and low-income Hispanic families. I also volunteer with CCM’s Hispanic ministry and teach a class for local 5-year-olds. I also coordinate a sustainability campaign called Take Back the Tap which aims to eliminate disposable plastic water bottles on campus.

Now moving to less traditional conceptions of “community engagement.” I direct public relations for William and Mary’s TEDx conference. I am also a trip leader for the Tribe Adventure Program. I also went to the US-Mexico border to do anthropology research last winter break. Finally, I worked as a medical interpreter at a rural community health center on the Eastern Shore of Virginia over this past summer.

OCE: How has this work contributed to community needs?

MEG: I would say the common denominator in all of my community engagement is that I try to connect with people and communities that benefit less from the status quo than I do. With the spring break trip, the aim is two-fold. Firstly, it is deliberately local. It is the opposite of exotic. It forces me to acknowledge ingrained and persistent problems within my own community. Secondly, it is designed to engage with especially marginalized communities. The elderly poor, the formerly incarcerated, and poorer Hispanic people do not get a large share of attention.

My work for Take Back the Tap is an acknowledgment that pollution and deterioration of public water supply affects poorer folks more. That’s why, for me, environmental justice is social justice. Part of creating more equitable communities is creating more sustainable communities. This requires changing mindsets and changing assumptions. Bringing disposable water bottles to the front of everyone’s minds is a way to do this.

OCE: What does active citizenship mean for you?

MEG: Active citizenship, for me, is rooted in a deep investment in the idea of “community.” It is an acknowledgment of our interconnected futures. It means that I must endeavor to pay attention to injustice: everywhere and every time. This is an overwhelming and exhausting proposition. It leads to uncomfortable questions and infuriating answers. It means questioning my assumptions. In practice, it means that I ask “why” a lot. I try my best to pay attention, think deeply, and take action.

OCE: How has your experience working in the community affected your educational career at William & Mary?

MEG: Working in the community has given my education teeth. It is a constant reminder that I should never measure my life with my resume or with my awards. Instead, I am forced to recognize that my responsibility is so much broader. My responsibility is to actively pursue justice; especially when it is difficult.

OCE: How do you plan to use what you’ve learned as an engaged citizen beyond William & Mary?

MEG: I’m not sure yet. I think that my job right now is to keep listening and learning. Every time I work in the community, I realize how much I don’t know. I realize how many structural issues I had never considered. I realize how many benefits I derive from the current state of affairs. And I realize that some things need to change. That, in my opinion, is my duty upon leaving William & Mary.

OCE: What is the most memorable or striking moment you experienced during your engagement work?

MEG: My most striking moment was nothing particularly thrilling. It was sitting at the simple lunch tables with elderly folks during my service trips to Richmond. I remember sitting there and thinking that they were some of the coolest people I had met. We talked, we listened, and we shared. I asked them about themselves without regard for the length or complexity of the answer. They did the same for me. We raved about Julie Andrews, shared opinions about food justice, and recounted crazy travel stories. In those moments I was reminded of the duty we have to listen to each other, care for each other, and fight for each other. That’s what it’s all about for me.

Adryan Flores- Compassion and Active Citizenship

OCE Student Profile Series

by Laura Stephens

It’s hard to think of a better example of an active citizen than Adryan Flores. He is humble and funny, but he is serious about social justice. He always looks for opportunities to serve, whether in big or small ways, understanding that both are equally important. Among other activities, he has worked with Circle K, Campus Kitchens, the Office of Community Engagement, and Catholic Campus Ministry. If there is a need he will look to fill it, because of his genuine compassion for everyone.

Office of Community Engagement: How are you involved in community engagement at William & Mary?

Adryan Flores: During my time at William and Mary, I have done service with Circle K, Campus Kitchens, and Office of Community Engagement. But most of the service I have done has been through participation in Catholic Campus Ministry’s Social Justice Ministry doing various community service projects such as giving food assistance to those in need, doing clothing and food drives, helping with the FISH organization’s costume sale, walking in the March for Life, running a homeless shelter for a night in Newport News, planning a service retreat to Chippokes State Park, and going on service trips to Richmond, Savannah GA, and Hurley VA.

OCE: How has this work contributed to community needs?

AF: The work I have been a part of has contributed to the community needs directly through supporting those in need with food, shelter, and clothing and indirectly through supporting organizations that help to support those in need.

OCE: What does active citizenship mean for you?

AF: Active citizenship means building relationships with those around me. Active citizenship means understanding my neighbor’s struggles, fears, hopes, dreams, and accomplishments. By understanding and knowing those around me, the act of service community engagement naturally follows. There can be no community without relationships, and no service without knowing our neighbors.

OCE: How has your experience working in the community affected your educational career at William & Mary?

AF: My experience working in the community has provided meaning and motivation towards my educational career. Understanding that using the knowledge and credibility we gain through education can be used to help those in need in the future motivates me to continue in my educational career.

OCE: How do you plan to use what you’ve learned as an engaged citizen beyond William & Mary?

AF: I will always carry a social consciousness that I gained through being an active citizen at William and Mary with me after I graduate and for the rest of my life. I will continue to be cognizant of the needs of those around me, especially those who have the least, and continue to work towards a better community. No matter what I end up doing professionally, I will try to continue to develop relationships with those around me to help create a more unified community that works and lives to help each other.

OCE: What is the most memorable or striking moment you experienced during your engagement work?

AF: One of the more memorable moments I experienced was when I was in Savannah Georgia and we were working for Old Savannah City Mission, an organization that helped the homeless and the recently incarcerated. We were working in the back storeroom helping sort donated linens to sell in their thrift shop when Mrs. Stiles, one of the general managers burst into the room and excitedly told us that they had just received a large grant. What stood out to me however was that all of the excitement she had wasn’t because of the money, or that they were going to use it to do something nice for herself, but that finally, after waiting for so long, they could get a new dishwasher. I had seen other acts of selflessness before but for some reason this particular moment with Mrs. Stiles made it clear to me that this was someone who dedicating every ounce of her being towards helping those who came to Old Savannah in a true spirit of selflessness.

Let’s talk about the border- Part V

This is Part V of a series about some of the challenges for Latino immigrants in the United States, and this post talks about the H-2A law and worker exploitation.

The Migrant Labor System

Estimates of the percentages of farmworkers who labor without documentation range from 50-70 percent. In past legislative debates, agricultural companies have actually worked against immigration policies that would facilitate workers being hired with documentation- because it would regulate the way that they would treat their workers and drive up their own production costs. Claims of their own financial difficulties are undercut by the statistic that “Between 1997 and 2007, the agriculture industry enjoyed a nearly 80 percent average annual increase in corporate profits…Over the same period, the average real wage of a farm worker remained stagnant.”

The H-2A program has been some of the most influential agricultural immigration policy over the last few decades.  It is extremely common for employers to knowingly hire workers without documentation; however, the H-2A program is another, more officially “legal” route to a cheap labor pool.

The process begins in the home communities of the workers. The employers send H-2A recruiters, who promise hard work but high wages and a better life. Coupled with the popular perception of the United States as the “land of opportunity,” their promises can be hard to resist. However, these promises are not free- the workers must pay significant costs to obtain this passage to a new country, including paying for a visa, costs of transportation, and for the employment itself. Already, before they have begun earning any money, they owe money to the people who hire them.

When these workers arrive in the United States, they are greeted with low (or stolen) wages. They even can be subjected to forced labor– or, the real and ugly word, slavery. This system of “debt bondage” that H-2A promotes facilitates their captivity. When the workers arrive, they generally live in “housing” (I use that term loosely) provided by their employers, for which they are charged. According to, “Deductions are made from their wages for transport, accommodation, food, work equipment, and supposed tax and social security payments. Weekly wages are sporadic and in many instances workers are left with no pay.” So they build up more and more debt over time, which they are forced to try to continue to work off.

H-2A workers themselves are in a very unique legal situation. They can only work for a limited time with the employer who brought them to the United States. At any moment, the employer may choose to terminate their employment, resulting in their deportation. As one of the provisions of the H-2A law, the employers are not required to pay Social Security or unemployment taxes for H-2A workers.

H-2A workers are preferred over legal permanent residents because of the exploitation that employers are able to perpetrate. There have been cases in which legal permanent residents have been fired for the explicit reason that they must legally be paid higher wages, as well as the prohibition from forcing them to work such extensive hours.

The system also leaves room for exploitation in the requirement for employers to reimburse the workers for transportation costs from their home countries after they have worked for half of a season. However, the employers often choose to fire the workers just before this point, so they do not have to pay. This leaves workers not only without the cost of their travels, but without jobs as well.

The treatment of the workers themselves can betray slavery- conditions as well. They may be compelled to work in the hot sun, and around dangerous chemicals (especially pesticides), for 10-12 hours at a time. Exposure to these toxic chemicals can also include nicotine absorbed through the skin- and many of the people exposed to this are children. Workers often suffer dizziness, rashes, and headaches, or vomiting— or cancer, neurological disorders, birth defects, and death as a result. There have even been accounts of workers being sprayed down directly with DDT. Housing conditions can include trailers, barracks, dilapidated homes, or any combination of the above. Their common feature is overcrowding and lack of sanitation. Workers can be watched by armed guards to prevent escape, and told that if they attempt to advocate for themselves, either they or their families will suffer the consequences. Workers may be physically tortured with techniques such as whipping, and many women suffer sexual assault.


In the last portion of this series, Part VI, I’ll offer some of my final thoughts and some of the ways that you can choose to become involved.

Let’s talk about the border- Part IV

This is Part IV of a series about some of the challenges for Latino immigrants in the United States, and this post talks about some of the historical roots of the system through the Bracero Program.

The Bracero Program

So what role does the United States play in motivating people to come? I’ve touched on some of the factors, such as the economic role of NAFTA. But there are deep historical roots for the today’s migration patterns. One of the strongest historical precedents is the Bracero Program. Although by no means the only avenue for migrants when they come to the United States, because of this historical precendent, farm work is a very common one.

As World War II began, the United States lost the labor force of the able bodied young men who went to war. Many of them would otherwise have served as farm labor, and in 1942, to ensure that there would be more enough workers, the United States and Mexican governments created the Bracero program. Years of war coupled with poor harvests made the program more attractive to the campesinos. The United States found the prospect of a labor force that they would not be required to pay high wages to appealing.

However, because of an earlier failed attempt at a Bracero Program from 1917 to 1921, in which the migrants encountered excessive discrimination and low wages, the Mexican government pushed for certain provisions in the program, including that the United States would pay for the journey to and from Mexico, and that the workers would be required to have the same pay as United States workers.

Around 1947, farmers began to see ways to acquire labor cheaply. They began to recruit workers without documentation, and this way were able to avoid the costs of both transportation and standardized wages. Initially, the United States government was friendlier to workers in this situation- if they were discovered, they would be taken to the border and issued documents to legally initiate them into the Bracero program. However, the Bracero program was far from equitable- for example, many workers had portions of their wages held and never returned to them.

However, around 1951, the government began to see more and more farmers working around the law to cut costs. Initially, the plan was to place the burden of guilt on employers, so as to stem the exploitation. However, because of the strong lobbying power of the farmers, a different future took shape. The resulting bill that Congress passed was called PL-78, or the Mexican Farm Labor Program. This bill called for a strong penalty for “harboring” individuals without documentation, including deeming it a felony, and punishment with $2,000 fines and 5 year prison sentences. However, it was still completely permissible to employ an individual without documentation.

The influx of workers without documentation continued into the early 1950s. Some of the military- like nature of Immigration and Naturalization Services (INS) practices that can be seen today may be partially due to the early appointment of a former general as its director. He implemented “Operation Wetback” in 1954, in which over a million Mexicans were deported. To try to save the flailing Bracero program, the US Department of labor decreased the requirements for fair treatment for workers. However, this did not work, and only served to worsen conditions for workers.

So these events put the pieces in place for the system we have today. Although the Bracero Program officially ended in 1964, employers had long before become dependent on the steady and cheaper labor force that it ultimately enabled. In reality, the PL-78 bill, by effectively legalizing the lack of regulation in employment practices for farmers, decreased any pressure to pay workers fair wages and contributed strongly to the demise of any semblance of fair treatment for workers.


This was Part IV of the article, and next time I’ll talk about the H-2A law and the exploitation of workers.

Chandra Chea- Keeping People First

OCE Student Profile Series

by Laura Stephens

Senior Chandra Chea definitely knows what it is to serve. With leadership roles in organizations such as Students Helping Honduras and the Williamsburg Engagement Head Start Program, among others, she what is to innovate. However, she never loses sight of people, who are at the heart of engagement for her.  Here, she shares her reflections on some of her experiences, and what connecting with others means to her.

At William and Mary, I am currently involved with the Office of Community Engagement and have had the opportunity to lead a group of students to Williamsburg Head Start weekly to volunteer with the children over this past year. Head Start teachers work diligently with parents to make sure their students do not fall behind before they start their education as kindergartners. In a packed classroom of students ranging from three to five, the teacher and teacher assistant are unable to provide individualized attention to each child. Through the collaborative program with William and Mary, volunteers offer extra assistance, helping to create a more productive classroom. The work that William and Mary students do in the classrooms helps to fill the gaps by giving support to the teachers.

I also promote community engagement through my involvement as a trip leader with the organization Students Helping Honduras (SHH), which focuses on combating the rampant gang violence in Honduras through providing children with access to education. Each year, students travel to El Progreso, Honduras to help build schools and learn about the culture. While in Honduras, students work alongside people in the community and learn the importance of sweat equity.  On campus, we raise funds for schools in various communities across Honduras and increase awareness about the link between poverty, violence, and education while also stressing the importance of global collaboration and service. Spending time with Head Start and SHH has given me a greater understanding of what it means to be an active citizen. To me, active citizenship means taking these opportunities to experience a different side of life and using them to inspire you to ask questions and make a change for the better.


During my time with SHH, I was able to spend time with Shin Fujiyama, the founder of the organization, during my trip and I was exposed to importance of cultural literacy and the struggles of international aid and fundraising. What I learned during my trip has inspired me to raise awareness and get other students involved in the issues that plague Honduras. My work with Head Start pushed me to question the education system in the United States, and has given me a glimpse of the effects of poverty on childhood education. These organizations have sparked my interest in education and given me a chance to explore passions outside of my major. By collaborating with other William and Mary students, I saw the strength in working with people who are passionate about the same issues.

Moving forward after graduation, I hope to surround myself with individuals that display the same qualities I saw in my peers at William and Mary and spend my life working in a field that is filled with passion and enthusiasm for creating change. My time traveling and serving communities have been filled with amazing experiences that have changed me and given me memories that I will cherish. The most memorable moment for me happened recently in a Head Start classroom. I was sitting with a young boy working on an art project for Mother’s Day and he was told to sign his name at the bottom. He whispered to me that he did not know how to write his name and asked me to write it for him. Instead, I worked on each letter with him until he was able to write it himself. After a few tries he wrote his name fully on his artwork and a look of joy spread across his face. He turned to me and asked if he had done it correctly, and when I nodded he screamed with excitement. He ran to his teacher and told her the good news and smiled wide as she put a sticker on him. While a seemingly small accomplishment, he had learned how to do something that he had given up on. Service, to me, is about these small moments.


Anna Wong- Humility and Compassion

OCE Student Profile Series

by Laura Stephens

With her infectious smile and upbeat personality, it’s obvious when you meet Anna Wong that she is a kind person. However, when you get to know her, you begin to understand this junior’s deep compassion for others and how many ways she seeks to engage with them.  Her efforts include working with Campus Kitchens, the Center for Veterans Engagement, H.O.P.E, and Literacy for Life, among others.  She was kind enough to answer some questions for us about what community engagement means to her.

Office of Community Engagement: How are you involved in community engagement at William & Mary?

Anna Wong: I first got involved in W&M community engagement through the Campus Kitchen, initially as a volunteer and later as the Public Relations Chair on the exec board. I also have volunteered for the Center for Veterans Engagement. I am currently a tutor at Literacy for Life, which is located at the School of Education. I have participated in two study-abroad programs in the business school, in which I studied social entrepreneurship (grassroots community organization) and conducted community assessments in the Dominican Republic and Cuba.

OCE: How has this work contributed to community needs?

AW: My work with the Campus Kitchen addressed food insecurity and food waste in Williamsburg. With the Center for Veterans Engagement, I helped further their mission of offering creative arts opportunities platforms to veterans in the community. At Literacy for Life, I help with their mission of improving lives by teaching adults literacy skills necessary for self-sufficiency, better health, and meaningful participation in society. The social entrepreneurship programs I participated in gave me a powerful new perspective to approaching community change, and during the trips, my classmates and I formed professional relationships with social change-makers in the Dominican Republic and Cuba.

OCE: What does active citizenship mean for you?

AW: To me, active citizenship means understanding/seeking an understanding of the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats that a community faces, and then applying our innate gifts or learned skills to make a positive difference. Active citizenship means both appreciating the freedoms and privileges we may have in society and also recognizing injustices and inequalities that exist. Active citizenship is not so much a log of volunteer hours, but rather an attitude—an attitude comprised of humility, determination, and responsibility.

OCE: How has your experience working in the community affected your educational career at William & Mary?

My experience working in the community has affected my educational path at William & Mary pretty significantly. I delved into learning more about food insecurity when I was Public Relations chair for the Campus Kitchen. The more I read about food insecurity, the more I understood how inextricable it is from socioeconomic inequality in the U.S. There are many approaches to fighting socioeconomic inequalities in America, but in my reading, there is one “sweet spot” that confronts both food insecurity and its underlying causes: that sweet spot occurs in schools. In a nutshell, that’s how I realized I wanted to become a teacher. My experiences in community engagement had also helped me realize that I prefer work on a micro-scale; for instance, I feel that my skills-set helps individuals share their stories (e.g. through the Center for Veterans Engagement). I was so excited when my volunteer work culminated in a Eureka moment, which has led me to choose an English major and Psychology minor. With my education, I hope to work in an urban school, make a meaningful connection with my students, and fight the education gap in this country.

OCE: How do you plan to use what you’ve learned as an engaged citizen beyond William & Mary?

AW: Beyond William & Mary, I plan to bring the attitude I’ve learned as an engaged citizen to all my future students (provided that my dream of being a high school/middle school English teacher comes true). This attitude encompasses a sense of humility and determination. The humility comes from realizing that you don’t go into community engagement to change or help people—you go into it to help people help themselves. The humility also comes from realizing that you don’t know a lot—you have to keep an open mind and learn to empathize with people, if you want to be a positive change in the community. The determination comes from realizing that nobody can take your good will away from you. The determination comes from embracing who you are and what you have to offer the world, because it’s not a competition to be the best or the most special—it’s a team game, and as long as you’re trying hard, you’ll always be a part.

OCE: What is the most memorable or striking moment you experienced during your engagement work?

AW: I can’t choose! I’m going to cheat and name several… One of the most memorable moments I experienced during my engagement work was the Center for Veterans Engagement showcase this past spring. I met Sam Pressler, the president of the Center, before he was the president of the Center—before the Center even existed. He was giving a presentation about the Veterans Writing Project, which he had just brought to William & Mary, at the Active Citizens Conference in 2014. A year later, he had invited me to help plan the Center for Veterans Engagement Annual Showcase. It was an extremely moving experience to hear what the veterans brought to life in writing, music, and comedy. Furthermore, it was striking to have met Sam through William & Mary community engagement: he’s one of the most hardworking, intense, and good-hearted people I know, and his leadership has inspired me profoundly.

Let’s talk about the border- Part III

This is Part III of a series I’m doing about the challenges that Latino immigrants can face. In this post, I talk about border patrol and Operation Streamline.

Border Patrol

The United States Border Patrol has strategies for breaking down migrants both physically and mentally. Migrants are often captured through a process called “dusting” in which border patrol finds migrants traveling in a group and uses a helicopter to raise dust to impair their ability to see. They then scatter the group and select a few members to catch, leaving the rest alone, which makes them more likely to die lost in the desert. Border patrol also often vandalizes food and water that relief organizations may provide on the migrant trails.

When they take them to their facilities, the migrants routinely suffer from overcrowding– for example, children may be lined up head to foot in sleeping quarters, and given only a blanket. Border patrol agents often subject the migrants to temperatures of extreme hot or cold.  They play migracorridos,  songs about dying in the desert, loudly for continuous extended periods. They also are notorious for denying necessary medical care.  Migrants may be forced to stay awake for extended periods. They routinely confiscate and often do not return migrants belongings, which can include anything from food to money important legal documentation, such as birth certificates. They deny migrants food and water, and statistically children are more likely to be denied water than adults, even when they are dehydrated.

Children are especially vulnerable to abuse. For example, there was a report of an eleven year old girl whose nose and throat began to bleed in custody, and when she requested medical treatment, the agents slammed the metal door in her face. The children may be called terms such as “dogs” or “whores.” There have been many reports of physical abuse, such as waking up child migrants in the night and kicking them over and over.

When the migrants are deported, it is common practice to separate families, through a practice called “lateral repatriation.” Migrants are often repatriated without any sort of food, money, or identification to a place distant from where they came from, without any way of returning home. Women and children are often dropped off in these places at night, placing them at higher risk of being harmed by criminals.

Operation Streamline

Begun in 2005 under the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice, this is a legal practice in which illegal entry and illegal re-entry into the United States is treated as a criminal offense.  People are tried for it in court in large groups of up to 80 at a time, and are typically appointed a public defender who also may be also representing a dozen other people at once. It is common practice for defendants to be chained during these proceedings. They are instructed to answer “sí” that they understand their charges, and then are given a waiver to sign stating that they accept the lack of trial and converting their charge “from a misdemeanor to a felony.” The majority of those captured under operation streamline are housed in private jails during their sentences, which can be very profitable. This can raise concerns about potential the potential financial motivations for this system.


In the next section of this series, I’ll cover some about the bracero program and how it laid the ground work for the system today.

Let’s talk about the border- Part II

This is Part II of a series I’m writing about some of the challenges for Latino immigrants in the United States, and this post talks about who may choose to immigrate and why, and some of the difficulties of the journey itself.

Who Comes

A wide range of people cross the border, but in general for different reasons. Often times fathers  leave to support their families for the promise to earn a higher income. Machismo culture can place pressure on men to cross the border as a proof of manhood and rite of passage of sorts. Leaving to support one’s family can be seen as a sign of responsibility.  Often this decision is made in the face of extreme poverty. People who are indigenous often endure discrimination and suffer this poverty the most- for example, the people of Chiapas, a region in the south of Mexico that is responsible for the production of many raw materials important in the Mexican economy. However, since the passage of NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement), in the early 1990’s, conditions have steadily gotten worse in many areas. One of the many negative effects of this agreement was to drive down the price of United States corn that was exported to Mexico, leaving the small farms (often run by people who were indigenous) unable to compete. With the loss of their farms and livelihoods, many farmers have sought work elsewhere, especially the United States.

Another effect of NAFTA has been the explosion of maquiladoras along the US- Mexico border. Largely owned by American companies, these factories are famous for their low wages and hazardous working conditions. For example, many of the products manufactured produce radioactive waste as a byproduct, causing elevated rates of cancer and other diseases. Another horrific consequence is the increased rate of the anencephaly, a condition in which a baby is born without a full brain.  Largely staffed by women, these employees routinely encounter sexual abuse from their employers and can be fired for pregnancy. However, these conditions can flourish because NAFTA created a zone along the border where there are lower levels of regulation and tax benefits for American companies to manufacture products. This has also promoted the creation of a border culture in which people routinely cross back and forth between the United Stated and Mexico as a matter of course.

Sometimes the mother and father make the decision to come to the United Stated together, and leave the children behind with other relatives or friends to care for them while the parents support them from afar. The thought process behind this can be that the money will go farther in one’s native country, and so although there is separation, the parents can allow the children to build a better life for themselves in the land they left behind. However, for many reasons, the parents may decide later on to bring the children to the United States. This can be a very stressful and even terrifying experience, because the parents cannot accompany their children on the journey. They must rely on coyotes, who if they are unethical,  may physically or sexually abuse their children, abandon them, or hold them for ransom.

There has been a huge increase in the number of children who have been crossing the border, much of the reason being the rise of violence in Latin America, largely related to drug cartels. (These cartels rely heavily on income and arms from the United States). There is often strong recruitment pressure on the children to join the cartels, who may use them as soldiers against an institutionalized army. If the children refuse, they or their families may face horrible repercussions. So many choose to leave, and might even make the journey without help from a parent or guardian. The children may also be stopped by border patrol, which to be honest isn’t much better, and may lead to a worse fate for them.

Violence has been historically been a strong motivator for migration. This past century was one of widespread genocide in Latin America, largely fueled by CIA engineered coups.  For example, hundreds of thousands of indigenous Mayans were horrifically and systematically killed in Guatemala in the 1980s, which drove many to seek refuge elsewhere, including the United States, which then in turn rejected them. The economic and cultural devastation that this genocide wrought still affects the country today, and has in many ways enabled the growth of the drug cartels that drive so many to try to escape.

What is the journey like?

The journey to the United States has never been an easy one. It is probably impossible to be honest for me to convey just how tortuous and inhumane the conditions really are. However, US policy changes in the early 2000’s made it even more so. In an attempt to “deter” migrants from crossing to the United States, the border patrol began heavily patrolling all but the most dangerous migration routes. These remaining routes are largely in the desert, where migrants must cross on foot through blinding heat.  This is very painful, and unsurprisingly, death by heatstroke is extremely common. Sometimes, migrants cross by riding La Bestia, or on top of a train. Obviously, this is extremely hazardous, and the risk of death or serious injury is very high.  In towns such as Pima County, Arizona, the number of deaths has spiked so drastically in recent years that the medical examiner had to construct a second cooler just to store the bodies, and organizations such as the Colibri Center are dedicated to identifying the remains of the dead. These include men, women, and children.

There are organizations such as No More Deaths that are dedicated to offering some level of relief to the migrants as they cross, granting them temporary shelter, water, and food. Many are religious in nature, offering migrants a spiritual refuge as well.

Let’s talk about the border…

Immigration is a touchy subject, no doubt about it. Just the word brings up many thoughts, feelings, and emotions in everyone. Most people have an automatic response to the topic, and can have good intentions behind their opinion. However, there is also a really high level of mystery and misinformation surrounding the United States immigration and border patrol systems. In my personal opinion, if there were a higher level of transparency in these programs, and more widespread knowledge about the systems that support them, many people would have a much more understanding attitude toward the struggles of immigrants.

I can’t cover all of the issues surrounding migration in one post- or ten. I was a Hispanic Studies minor in college, so I don’t feel as qualified to speak on the immigration processes and policies of every culture in relation to the United States.  But I will try to outline some challenges of the journey that Latino migrants in the United States must endure in their attempts to better their lives.

Part I: Why Immigrate

I think that there can exist a perception that people who come to the United States are just trying to take an easy way out. But when you ask why people come to the United States, I think a good first step is to ask why would you leave your own home? What would be enough motivation?

Would a 50% reduction in income be enough? How about 90%? How about not knowing where your next meal might come from? Would you leave if you lost your livelihood, or your home?

How much violence would it take? Would you leave if someone marked your home with graffiti? How about if someone vandalized your car? What if your kids were being recruited into gangs? What would you do if someone threatened your family with death or torture unless you paid them?

What if you had to endure these circumstances, but you’ve always heard stories of a distant but supposedly accessible place where life is better? Where you hear that if you work hard you can make a lot of money, keep your children safe, and create for yourself the life that you’ve always wanted? Sure, you might have to break a few laws to get there, but when it can cost 5,000-7,500 dollars to have a lawyer assist you in the process of obtaining a green card, and the wait time to legally immigrate can range from 15- 20 years or more, that might not seem so important.  Realistically, would the confusing legal processes of some far away land matter more than the empty stomachs of your children?

These can be some of the choices people face when they leave their home. The decision to leave is typically gut-wrenching and painful, often meaning breaks with extended or even immediate family and leaving the only home that one has ever known. Leaving can often mean paying costs ranging from several hundred  to thousands of dollars to hire a coyote, a guide to facilitate crossing the border. Coyotes can be reputable and treat their clients well, or they can kidnap family members and extort money in exchange for the possibility of their freedom.


Next time I’ll start getting into different people who may choose to immigrate and why, and what difficulties the journey entails.