by Catherine Goodyear, Senior Writer
Manhattan College’s Catholic Relief Services Campus Ambassadors hosted an immigration and migration simulation on Tuesday, Feb. 19 in Smith Auditorium. The event called “Would the U.S. Accept You?” provided a brief history of U.S. immigration laws and policies as well as reasons behind why the majority of people migrate to the United States.
The event host and Director of Campus Ministry and Social Action, Lois Harr, wanted students to understand why people are coming to the U.S. and how difficult the process at the border is.
“In some ways it’s the same as ever, like our grandparents or other ancestors, they come for a better life for themselves & their families. In particular, many, many people from the Northern Triangle of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador come to escape gang and gender-based violence and crushing poverty,” said Harr. “Families are threatened and harmed, even killed, by gangs to force young people to join. There is little tolerance or acceptance for members of LGBTQ community. So they make their way north, alone, in groups, some children are unaccompanied. If and when they survive the journey, they are often taken into custody.”
At the start of the simulation, participants were given little or no money and role-playing cards with stories about the person they were playing. These stories were often emotional or difficult for participants to read. After receiving the cards, the participants made their journey to the U.S. border where many were often robbed before they reached it.
Students, who thought they had some understanding of the process of immigration to the United States, found participating in this activity further opened their eyes.
“The most shocking thing to me was the length of the process that immigrants have to go through,” said Shanice Lyle, a student participant. “I believe that the United States current immigration system is lacking in many areas. Individuals get dehumanized and treated unfairly during the immigration process, and it is horrible. Immigration is an ongoing issue and there can never be too much awareness about the reality of the situation. Students should take away the reality of the situation; how uncomfortable it made them feel so the perspective of those going through it can be better understood and respected.”
The simulation mirrored an interrogation process many migrants receive when they arrive at the U.S. border. The officials asked questions from a checklist to see if the participant fit the ideal migrant they were looking for; any information that deviated from the checklist, including a character’s back story, was overlooked.
Harr commented on how this scenario plays out in real life.
“They are entitled by U.S. law to ask for asylum,” Harr said. “They are interrogated by officials who will determine whether they will immediately be deported back to their capital city- which could be hundreds of miles from their hometown. They can be reunified with family and/or resettled in the U.S. if they have a job lined up or a skill we need, or they can placed In detention, very spare facilities with toilets in public view, little in the way of hygiene, or decent food, children separated from parents, and for an indeterminate period of time. They will eventually have hearings and they may stay or end up deported.”
After the simulated interrogation, participants were then split up and placed into either detention, deportation, or sentenced to speak before a judge, many of whom are swayed by the administration to rule based on agendas rather than individual cases. The participants who made it before the judge were often sent to deportation or detention anyway; very few made it into the United States.
At the final step in the simulation, students were asked to sign a letter to Congress asking for humanitarian aid and support for migrants. They also signed posters in an effort to show solidarity with migrants.
While Harr led the event, Catholic Relief Services (CRS) campus ambassadors helped with the preparation and planning of the event. One of the CRS ambassadors, Mackenna Jacovich, commented on why they chose to do an immigration simulation.
“We coordinate with one another to bring awareness on campus to human trafficking, migration, climate change and world hunger. We chose to do the immigration simulation this semester due to the current political climate. As the current administration pushes to build a wall between the US and Mexico, we believe it is important for people to understand what is causing the migration. We hope the experience made people understand how intense and grueling the process is to enter into the United States and seek asylum,” said Jacovich.
Another CRS campus ambassador, Samantha Wilson, hopes that the event attendees took away an invaluable lesson on immigration and could look at the issue with a new frame of mind.
“Crossing the border is not as simple as the news and many politicians like to make it sound,” Wilson said. “It is a long and difficult journey made by people who would only face the many risks because they are fleeing the most disastrous situations in their home countries. The dangers of the journey are only made worse when factoring in that only one in five people who cross the border are actually able to settle in the United States, regardless of their situation.”
“Many still face deportation, detention, and persecution once they arrive. I would hope that the students and faculty who attended the simulation realize just how confusing, frustrating, and ultimately scary the process of crossing the border is, and walk away with an open mind and open heart,” Wilson said.