Westmont faculty returns from trip to US-Mexico border
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Four Westmont faculty members gathered on Thursday night at the University Club to provide insight on President Donald Trump’s strict border policies and new immigration laws. The faculty had recently returned from a trip to the US-Mexico border meant to develop an understanding and relationship with immigrants hoping to cross the border and tell the stories of what they witnessed as well as the people they met.
The group included Dr. Cheri Larsen Hoeckley (an English professor), Dr. Chris Hoeckley (the director of the Gaede Institute and a Philosophy professor), Liz Robertson (Van Kampen resident director), and Dr. Cynthia Toms (a professor of kinesiology and global studies).
Dr. Toms began, saying the purpose of the seminar is to “move past news and tv rhetoric and choose a paradigm that would represent the faces and the stories of people directly caught in the situation [at the border].” During their trip, they were able to see first-hand the extremities of the hazardous journey taken by immigrants to get to the border, which often resulted in many missing or dead.
Robertson related one illustration of this harsh reality, describing how a man had “asked if we would be willing to spend our day searching for a missing teenager rather than sticking with our original plan of walking through the desert handing out water bottles. All of the sudden, what it truly meant to be a migrant in the desert was before us.”
In addition to the dangers of the journey to the border also came the risk of being caught and faced with jail time followed by deportation. Dr. Chris Hoeckley was able to witness the court trials of many groups of immigrants who had been caught trying to cross the border. He noticed that all of the immigrants in the courtroom were shackled. “I realized that I was participating in the very dehumanization that the court process encourages.”
One individual who stood out to Dr. Hoeckley was a man named Mr. Contreras. “He had the full depth of human experience that I had, and more than that he is God’s beloved just as I am, and that in the end is what broke me.” Mr. Contreras was just one of the sixty men and women processed and found guilty amidst the first hour of Hoeckley sitting in during the hearings. Hoeckley concluded his story with a proposition, “With all of the policy discussions streamlined and available on the web, I hope you’ll learn more about them and ask, Is it effective and is it constitutional?”
Within the professors and faculty members’ experiences came close relationships built with immigrants. Dr. Cheri Hoeckley shared about her conversation with two 17 and 18-year-old boys she had met and the cruelty they experienced from border officials. When asked what they would like the professors to tell Americans about them, they said, “tell them that the border control doesn’t have to be so cruel to us. My friends and I ran out of water and were walking towards them, and one of them threw us on the ground and laughed at us. They didn’t have to do that.”
Dr. Toms concluded the discussion by drawing attention to the common understanding that U.S. immigration policies are “broken and in need of serious change.” She went on to say that we should look at immigration issues with a “faith-perspective,” seeing the hardships immigrants face as a “humanitarian issue.” We should be providing empathy, not division.