ASU students, faculty address immigration border crisis, solutions

(Photo by Alexis Macklin) Religious studies senior and Sun Devils are Better Together President Johnny Martin and psychology senior Iqra Ahmed pose before the group's event, Beyond the Border. The event took a closer look at the border immigration crisis. (Photo by Alexis Macklin)

Faculty members gathered Wednesday afternoon at the Beyond the Border panel discussion to take a close look at the border immigration crisis, while ASU students prepared an action plan of their own.

Members of the interfaith “radically inclusive” student organization Sun Devils Are Better Together facilitated the event to gain more in-depth knowledge about the current situation at the border, while preparing to start its own campaign.

The massive awareness campaign will kick off this year across campus to educate students about the influx of the unaccompanied children from Central America into the U.S., religious studies senior and Sun Devils are Better Together President Johnny Martin said.

“We really feel that an interfaith response to this crisis would be one of the most effective ways in actually providing support and the resources that these kids need in order to stay in the U.S. and continue education,” Martin said.

The plan also includes fundraising and collecting donations of food, clothing, hygiene and school supplies as well as sending volunteers to the border to stay with the children.

Martin said the organization soon will be looking for volunteers to visit kids and teach them English at the border.

The ultimate goal defined by the leaders of the organization, Martin said, is to secure permanent stable living arrangements for all of the immigrant children in Arizona.

Sun Devils Are Better Together strives to involve not only students, but also faith communities all over Arizona in its campaign.

“We’re trying to get (faith communities) to focus on those common goals and shared values of compassion and kindness and trying to help other people,” he said.

Alongside the immigrant crisis campaign, Sun Devils Are Better Together encourages people to engage with others across lines of difference and move past fundamental disagreements in the interest of social justice and rights.

Psychology senior and the organization's interfaith leader Iqra Ahmed has always lived in a diverse environment. Stories of how people were judged or marginalized based on their beliefs motivated her to join the organization.

“I want to do something to make a difference, help open people’s eyes to more peace, learning about different cultures,” Ahmed said.

At the event, the panel addressed the crisis from a wide variety of perspectives, as the audience was carefully jotting down details. Legal, cultural, philosophical and humane sides of the crisis were confronted by experts from various ASU departments.

Professor of philosophy Elizabeth Brake examined the ethical philosophical implications of the crisis and introduced different philosophical approaches to the question of borders and immigration.

Accepting the premise that we are born free, national borders unjustly limit basic human rights such as the freedom of movement, free choice of occupation and freedom of association, she said.

“One relevant fact in the current crisis is that many of the recent arrivals are not seeking to cross the border illegally; they are seeking asylum," Brake said. "They are coming from some place (where) they have no reasonable alternative for survival.”

Cecilia Menjivar, a professor in the Sanford School of Social and Family Dynamics, said violence and poverty are not the only reasons for children to leave their home countries. Parents, separated from their children for a long-term indefinite period, are under pressure to send for their kids, she said.

Although current immigration laws make the situation uncertain and parents don’t know if they will see their kids again, this is the only opportunity to reunite and protect their children from home country violence, she said.

“Even if it’s a dangerous enterprise, it appears to be the only chance these parents have for a family integration,” Menjivar said.

Instructional professional at ASU’s College of Law Evelyn Cruz said although the U.S. believes human rights ought to be protected, the country hasn’t evolved the law to protect immigrants’ human rights.

“We keep trying to apply the same law to a situation that is completely different from what it was before,” she said. “The issue here with providing assistance to these children and to other immigrants from Central America does not relate to whether or not we’ve been prosecuting. Clearly, their human rights have been violated. The problem is that we haven’t evolved a law to protect them against who the actors are.”

Restoration Project volunteer Cyndi Whitmore said although a lot of people in Phoenix are willing to help the immigrants, they are looking for volunteers to provide short-term transitional houses to people who have been released from detention facilities.

“Instead of going into that place of fear, move into a place of compassion,” Whitmore said.

Reach the reporter at or follow on Twitter @KseniaMaryasova

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