Reflections from Spring Break: Witnessing a Broken System

By Allison Cunningham

This spring break, I experienced perhaps the best opportunity that the University of Minnesota has given me so far. With Lutheran Campus Ministry, I was able to go on a mission trip to Mexico to learn about and experience immigration and deportation issues. Based on the discussions we had before leaving, I expected this trip to be mainly educational, but it was more than that. Of course, I did learn about immigration, how deplorable the U.S. deportation process is, and that a shockingly large number of people have had to completely start their lives over because of this outdated, unjust system. However, that wasn’t all I learned.

A recurring theme that I noticed throughout the trip was family. Deportees often have to leave their families when they return to Mexico. Their wives, husbands, children, and grandchildren are left behind with no way to help their loved one as they start their life over in a far off place. Once a year, on Children’s Day, a select few families have the opportunity to re-unite for a mere two minutes before they have to return to their separate lives on opposite sides of the border.

But the stories I heard about families weren’t all heartbreaking. For the last three days of our trip, we stayed at an orphanage called Miracle Ranch. The children there had been abandoned or taken away from their parents, but not a single one of them lacked a family. One of the girls who I was particularly close to mentioned in passing that she loved spending time with her “mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters.” Those kids, although having been left by parents who couldn’t or wouldn’t care for them, had the greatest sense of community and family that I’ve ever seen. I feel so lucky to have been welcomed into their family, even if it was only for a few days.

Everywhere we went, our hosts thanked us for coming. We were thanked for visiting Chicano Park, thanked for going to the Migrant House, and thanked for staying at Miracle Ranch. I never felt like I deserved to be thanked. It felt more right when we thanked them in return. I felt so grateful for the opportunity to learn about Mexican history, to hear personal accounts of deportation, and for the opportunity to help out at the orphanage (which mainly meant just playing with the kids). I’m so thankful to have met and gotten to know everyone along the trip: everyone from LCM, our guides, the migrants, and the kids. There weren’t any easy goodbyes, and the time definitely went by too fast. I still catch myself wondering what the kids are doing right now, or whether the man I talked to at the Migrant House got the job he was applying for.

Since I’ve been back at school and have talked to people about my experiences on the trip, I’ve been asked what should be done to fix the immigration system. Honestly, I have no idea. I know it’s broken and needs to be fixed, but beyond that, I don’t know what, specifically, should be done in the future in terms of government policy. In the short-term, however, I think people are already doing exactly what needs to be done. Border Angels runs water drops in the desert, as well as other services for people trying to cross the border. Multiple organizations have rallies to raise awareness of these issues. Casa Del Migrante takes in people who have been thrown out of their country and helps them get back on their feet. These are all things that need to happen, and I feel so lucky to have had the chance to learn about and interact with people who perform such amazing services for others.

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