The GW Chapter of Lambda Pi Chi Sorority hosted a discussion on the migrant crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border as part of the university’s Latinx Heritage Celebration.
By B.L. Wilson
As part of the 2021 Latinx Heritage Celebration, George Washington University’s Theta Chapter of Latinas Promoviendo Comunidad/ Lambda Pi Chi Sorority, Inc. hosted “Real Conversations: The Humanitarian Crisis at the Border” to raise awareness about the treatment of people seeking asylum on the southern border of the United States.
“Shocked, surprised and upset” was the reaction of one of the scores of students who packed into a room at the GW Multicultural Student Services Center last week to discuss the situation at the U.S. border with Mexico.
“It just hurts,” said another student. “It really hurts.”
Veronica Castillejo, Theta chapter president and a GW senior, said there was “the expectation that migrant and immigrant policies would change under President Joe Biden, that things would get better. However, they are still facing many challenges.”
“There are different kinds of people of all ages and from all countries that come to plea for asylum, find a new life,” she said, flashing a slide of a widely circulated image of a Haitian father holding his child and unaccompanied child migrants behind a wire fence. “Many of them face similar obstacles or vastly difficult and different realities once they actually get here.
“We need to think about how rights are being violated at the border… the inadequate supplies, continued concerns about the lack of drinkable water and hygiene and overcrowded detention centers,” she said.
According to the advocacy group, Detention Watch, Ms. Castillejo said, there are 25,000 migrants in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody, which is a 70% increase since the start of the Biden administration.
In keeping with assurances to the students that they should feel comfortable expressing themselves at the event without concern for academic or professional repercussions, GW Today is not naming some speakers in this story.
Several students said they found an increasing climate of hostility toward migrants, from President Donald Trump’s rhetoric associating them with crime to the Muslim ban, to Vice President Kamala Harris telling “folks in this region who are thinking about making that dangerous trek to the United States-Mexico border, do not come.”
One student said that people don’t seem to understand that entering the United States legally or illegally is not easy.
“You don’t know what it is like for extended days walking in [a migrant’s] shoes,” she said. “Coming here legally is ideal… but it takes an eternity. It takes so freaking long. Escaping your home country for incredibly difficult reasons like persecution and violence, you can’t wait around for whatever it may be.”
Taking turns leading the discussion, Gabriella Marroquín, Theta’s finance director and a GW senior, said that there are certain fallacies about illegal migration because of the focus on the southern border of the United States.
“People come from all countries, including Western Europe, Eastern Europe, literally every continent but people focus on brown and Black bodies that are coming from the south in order to create some sort of fear and othering…,” she said, “because you don’t see them as a person with real lives and families, a real story.”
One young man said that his father is a construction worker who is willing to work in all kinds of weather and go without sleep to provide housing for his family. When people speak about migrants taking other peoples’ jobs, “It hurts. It hits home literally.”
In a discussion focused on recent images of Haitians being “rounded up by Border Patrol agents on horseback with lassos” led by Tiffanie Arias, Theta vice president and a GW junior, said those images were “so shocking because people had turned a blind eye to what was going on at the border but the images of people running away and the expression on their faces forced people to look.”
“We don’t need graphic images to know this is a tough experience,” said one student. “It is really traumatizing. My own thoughts were if [these were] white migrants, this wouldn’t really be happening. We’ve seen it with Central Americans and South Americans. It’s a shame.”