El Otro Lado: CB Students Experience The Other Side

As we live in the time of Covid, everything in the past seems to be a sweet distant memory. As I reflect on what my life was like before the pandemic, I reminisced on the last normal trip I took — El Otro Lado Venaver. My interest in CB’s Venaver program started as I began the […]

As we live in the time of Covid, everything in the past seems to be a sweet distant memory. As I reflect on what my life was like before the pandemic, I reminisced on the last normal trip I took — El Otro Lado Venaver. My interest in CB’s Venaver program started as I began the application to be a student at CB. In my time of choosing high schools as an eighth grader, the Venaver program seemed to be a very uniquely CB experience. Sure other schools offered forms of community service, but Venaver seemed to be a big part of the CB experience, as our motto is “enter to learn, leave to serve”.

“El otra lado “ means the other side, in this case refering to the U.S-Mexico border. The trip surrounded the issues and education around the immigration system. As someone who had seen the pictures on TV and read the news stories on what goes on in detention centers and at the border, physically being there is a much different story.

Bright and early on February 2nd, me, nine of my classmates, Ms. Anna Fernandez and Mr. Bernie Eckel left from Sacramento International Airport for a week. As I hugged my parents goodbye and got onto the train to security, I was excited, nervous, and eager for the unexpected.

Our first day in Tucson consisted of meeting Sister Judy, Savannah, and Nicole all people from San Miguel High School, which is the school that runs the El Otro Lado program. We toured the school and saw the murals on the walls dedicated to the phrase “enter to learn, leave to serve”, a common Lasallian education phrase. In previous years, students slept on the stage in the gym of San Miguel but this year, we all got to live together in the house across the street from the high school. Following the introduction, we attended mass at the University of Arizona and had dinner at the house of the brothers.

Every morning we all woke up bright and early at 6:30 AM to the knocking on our doors and a “good morning squad” from our trip leader Savannah. On Tuesday, we visited the border for the first time along with a non-profit organization in Arizona called “ Casa Alitas” that supports immigrants in and out of ICE custody.

Seeing the border for the first time was a very shocking and emotional experience. Many of us students had never seen the border online or in person. Though we did not cross into Mexico, we walked the border that separated Nogales, Mexico and Nogales, Arizona. The barbed wired was wrapped on top of the long metal to encourage people to not climb over. The space between the wall just close enough together so you can see little bits of Mexico when you look through. The thing most striking to me about this experience was a woman speaking to her family through the border walls, her on the Arizona side and her family on the Mexico side. To me, this embodies the pain in which a border can create with the separation of families.

The walk through entrance from Nogales, Arizona to Mexico is a very different experience on both sides. From the U.S to Mexico side, we as citizens can walk through quite easily by just showing at the checkpoint our passports and or a form of identification. The walk through line to get into the U.S from Mexico is much more strict, with some people waiting hours to pass through.

When families are in ICE custody, they can be dropped off at a bus station where they can stay until they either wait for a hearing or decide how they are going to get to family in other states. If families stay at the bus station, they most likely have to sleep outside in harsh conditions, Casa Alitas has an agreement with ICE and immigration services that instead of dropping families off at the bus station, they are dropped off at the casa. The casa provides full services for these families, such as food, shelter, clothes and travel services to get people where they need to go. In light of the sadness and discomfort that surrounded this day, it felt good to see the humanitarian aid being provided for these immigrants families.

On Wednesday we approached the topic from a legal standpoint. This was our “federal day”, where we visited a border patrol station and went to court to sit in on immigration hearings. We learned the perspective of border patrol agents and what they experience on a day to day basis in their jobs.

After this we had the privilege to sit in on Operation Streamline in immigration court. This was a process designed to speed up the process in which illegal immigrants are processed and then flown back to their Home Countries. Around 72 migrants are processed in such little time, almost all pleading guilty. When you think of court. you most likely think of someone pleading for their case, but this is never the case in immigration court. Many of these people processed in court have been separated from their families and will do anything they can to be reunited, even if this means being sent back to their home country. Most of those in court want to plead not guilty because a new court date is rescheduled most often a few months out from the current date, thus creating more time they have to spend away from their families. This is something almost all migrants won’t risk.

Our final full day of the trip consisted of hiking with the Tucson Samaritans group, speaking with the Tohono O’oadam EMS and visiting the Tohono O’odam nation reservation. It is common in a border town for hikers and everyday people go out into into Tuscon desert to leave water for immigrants on their journey. As a group we hiked and carried a gallon of water each and had an opportunity to step foot in the immigrants shoes on the journeys they may encounter in the dessert.

Finally, we talked with the EMS on the reservation and how they treat immigrants whose may be injured on their journeys and to those on the reservation and their stance on the topic of immigration as many immigrants likely come across the reservation in their journeys.

As a group. we all returned home more bonded together through the emotion and knowledge in which we shared.

“I’ve always been for helping immigrants since I am a first generation American myself and have been through similar situations,” Zitlalli Chavez (‘21) says. “The trip really allowed me to further educate myself on this topic”

The topic of immigration can often be seen as more of a political than a human rights issues. As students, we felt privileged to have this experience through school as it is a program that allows students to learn more about themselves and others.

“When students start making comments and adding to the conversation, I start seeing the empathy in how much you guys are learning about yourselves and about the topic and that motivates me to keep doing [El Otro Lado] because that’s the goal to have you guys learn and bring that awareness back home,” Ms. Fernandez says.

“I was most impacted by the courage, motivation, and perseverance the immigrants have when fighting for what they want,” Maggie Melarkey (’21) said. Specifically the walk in the desert because I was able to actually put myself in the immigrants shoes and understand what they went though”

All students should take advantage of the opportunity to participate in Venaver a unique CB experience. When things become normal again students should consider being open minded and open themselves up to new possibilities through CB’s Venaver program.

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