I did not really think about immigration, migrant rights, or border issues, until I was in college. My K-12 education did not include extensive curriculum on these issues, and I grew up in a white, suburban, fairly privileged neighborhood where I was not otherwise exposed to these concepts. I know there are many other students in Colorado like me that are not going to learn about these issues from their schools or their neighborhoods, but should learn all the same. I think a solution to that is organizing trips where schools take K-12 students to the Southwest border.
This might sound a little weird or radical, but I learned so many things throughout these trips that broadened my understanding and made me a better student and future advocate. For example, I always knew people were deported from the United States every day, but it is a different experience to sit in the same courtroom with sixty individuals, and watch them all be deported in a one-hour sitting, their shackles softly clanging throughout the courtroom.
I got a (very small) taste of the hardship many people face to get here when I walked through the Arizona desert in the hot sun, watching for snakes and cactuses. I gained a new perspective of border patrol agents, as I spoke with them about their jobs. Many spoke about keeping their country safe, and recognizing the difficulty of having to enforce laws of a broken system.
I gained a new perspective when I stood next to the border wall, knowing that it was the only thing that separated the United States and Mexico. I gained a new confusion when I looked toward the end of the wall and realized it just stopped somewhere in the middle of the desert. I saw a different side of Mexico in the border towns, where the people lived very differently than just across the border, and the landscape looked extremely different from the Mexican resorts I had visited.
But most of all, being surrounded by these issues and this culture created a space to have conversations that I might not otherwise have had. Conversations such as, do immigrants pay taxes? Do Mexican Citizens actually want to become U.S. citizens or are they just here for work? Do prosecutors, judges, and border patrol agents believe in the system they must enforce? How much does this wall actually cost? How effective is it?
I want the future leaders of Colorado and of this country to have those conversations and to cultivate answers that are founded in actual knowledge and exposure to these issues. While you can discuss these things in a classroom, many students do not, and even if they do, actually experiencing them will bring a stronger understanding. As citizens of a state with a large immigrant population, I think we have a responsibility to engage with these issues, and to teach students about them as well. I wish more students in Colorado could have that experience. I think we would be a smarter, kinder, and better state for it.
Posted by Haley DiRenzo