As early as Admitted Eagle Day, Boston College students are advised about different classes to take, clubs to get involved with, and service organizations to join. One such group, Arrupe, is well-known around campus for its participants’ moderately aggressive dining hall fundraisers, but beyond this, people not involved with the program tend to be unfamiliar with its details and mission.
The Arrupe International Immersion Program distinguishes itself from other volunteer-based organizations by focusing heavily on immersing participants in different cultures rather than serving international communities (although each small group includes a balance).
By providing an opportunity for participants to encounter other cultures, Arrupe hopes to foster a compassion and awareness for suffering people around the world. Applicability to modern society is also a common thread within each Arrupe trip, as participants choose whether their experience will primarily focus on issues of climate change, migration, or globalization.
The Gavel interviewed four participants in a migration-centered Arrupe small community to better understand the inner workings of an Arrupe trip as well as the significance of their service-immersion experience.
This particular group traveled to the US-Mexico border to witness first-hand the process that potential immigrants must endure to enter the US. The students first traveled to El Paso, TX, from January 3-6. Here, they partnered with the Encuentro Project to better educate themselves on various anti-immigration policies, most notably, the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP).
The MPP, colloquially known as the “Remain in Mexico Protocols” is a series of policies designed to keep immigrants—specifically those entering between designated ports of entry, some without proper documentation—outside of the US while their proceedings take place. MPP, according to the Department of Homeland Security, exists to “help restore an orderly immigration process” and decrease the “ability of smugglers and traffickers to prey on vulnerable populations.”
In reality, this is not the case.
“They [ICE agents] send them [asylum seekers] into Juarez without their shoelaces, and Juarez is run by gangs, and they can identify them,” explains Kat Gange, MCAS ‘20. “There’s danger to that situation…they know who’s not from there, and if you don’t know anyone there, it’s easier for you to be trafficked or killed.”
Beyond the xenophobia inherent in a policy that forces asylum-seeking individuals and families to uproot themselves and live for years in an unknown city, the treatment of migrants at the border is inhumane. Taking shoelaces from prisoners is a common safety precaution within prisons around the world, but this practice raises a pressing question: why does the US treat undocumented immigrants (many of whom are fleeing their homes for safety reasons) the same way it treats dangerous prison inmates? What is gained by further criminalizing migrants when the cost is endangering their lives in Juarez? It is evident that the US is unconcerned with the protection of the “vulnerable populations” it claims to protect through the MPP.
From El Paso, the students then traveled to Las Cruces, NM, where they were given the opportunity to view criminal immigration trials, and meet with border patrol agents and DACA recipients. It was during these last few days that the students heard stories of—and saw firsthand—the inhumane treatment of immigrants at the border.
One story, recounted by Hannah Young, MCAS ‘20, was particularly horrifying. Often, she explained, people leave jugs of water in the desert for lost immigrants attempting to cross the border in between ports of entry. Rather than respecting these immigrants’ inherent dignity as humans—and a biological need for hydration—border patrol agents slash the jugs on site, potentially condemning the intended recipients to a painful death in the desert.
However, not all of the events seen by students were this dismal. While preparing to board their plane to El Paso, the students had the chance to watch while an asylum-seeking family met their sponsors. “They were really happy,” remembers Kate Ferrari, MCAS ‘20. “It was like a full-circle ending, because we met them just when they had gotten released from ICE, and then we saw them at the airport when we were leaving.”
Regardless of one’s beliefs about immigration into the US, behaviors like those exhibited by ICE agents are appalling—and not often highlighted in the news. By bringing students to encounter the real experiences of people at the southern border, this US-Mexico border trip illustrates just one instance of many where Arrupe has provided opportunities for students to gain a deeper understanding of the injustices that pervade our society today.