For Luis Delgadillo, the immigration crisis hits close to home. When he was about 6-years-old, Delgadillo and his family emigrated from Mexico to Texas.
“Whether we’re directly affected by this crisis or not, each of us has a responsibility as human beings to be involved in coming up with a solution,” said Delgadillo, a government and Spanish major at Cornell University. “At the end of the day, it’s about human dignity.”
The 21-year-old was one of nearly 40 students of varying faiths who participated in an immersive learning experience at the California-Mexico border. Delgadillo and his peers represented 10 Hillels across the nation, including Cornell University Hillel, Emerson College Hillel and University of California San Diego Hillel.
The weekend-long event, beginning on Nov. 8, was organized by Hillel International, Hillel U Center for Community Outreach and Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Greater Boston.
To reach their first destination, students walked along snaking roads to Border Field State Park, situated on the San Diego-Mexico border.
Sophie Nadler, president of California State University San Marcos Hillel, stared at the border fence, thinking of two young women she treated last week during her nursing shift at a nearby medical center. Nadler, 23, said the women landed in her care after suffering injures from jumping over a border fence separating Mexico from California.
“Because I work in a level one trauma center close to the border, this is going to be my reality from now on,” said Nadler, a cellular and molecular biology major. “The immigration crisis is happening in my backyard, and that’s one of the reasons why I want to become more educated about the situation.”
While at Border Field State Park, Nadler and her peers heard from community activist Marian Ruiz of Border Angels, a non-profit organization that provides emergency humanitarian aid to immigrants in San Diego.
Under a glaring sun, Ruiz educated students about changes in the driving factors of migration. She said people used to migrate to the United States in pursuit of the “American Dream,” but nowadays, they’re fleeing from their native countries to escape human rights violations, such as persecution, gang violence and domestic abuse.
Ruiz also emphasized that more women and children are making the crossing than male migrants.
“Life is a human right,” Ruiz said. “Love has no borders.”
Ruiz encouraged students to channel their own passions as they become social justice advocates on campus. Her advice resonated with Lauren Kann, an environmental and sustainability sciences major at Cornell.
The 21-year-old said her focus on water resource management in disaster relief and humanitarian aid projects can be applied to pollution challenges within the Tijuana River Watershed, which encompasses approximately 1,750 square miles across the California-Mexico border.
“Every single issue, including the immigration crisis, is multifaceted,” said Kann, who serves as social justice chair at Cornell Hillel. “That means there’s a way for me to become involved by infusing my own passions for water resource management.”
To welcome Shabbat on Friday evening, Kann and her peers davened at Hillel of San Diego. Hillel professionals and students organized a service with adapted prayers focusing on immigration, including Hashkiveinu, which emphasized “protecting those ﬂeeing violence and arriving at our shores as we create a safe, life-giving and peaceful haven.”
Students also engaged in hands-on service projects, assembled and donated more than 30 hygiene kits, containing toothbrushes and menstrual products, as well as 30 backpacks with school supplies to makeshift migrant camps in Tijuana, Mexico. Some even served meals to asylum-seeking families at the Jewish Family Service Migrant Family Shelter in San Diego.
On Sunday, Professor Joanna Brooks of San Diego State University led a letter-writing program on Sunday at San Diego Hillel for the students, who wrote words of compassion and solidarity to asylum seekers in immigration detention centers. The letters are intended to start pen-pal relationships between Hillel students and detainees.
To conclude their weekend, students engaged in conversations about how they will raise awareness and spur civil dialogue about immigration on campus. Dani Wiesenthal, a freshman at San Diego State University Hillel, said expressing “enthusiasm, eloquence and courage” about the immigration crisis will “change this world.”
The weekend experience, she added, “restored my faith in humanity, in our future and in this generation of activists.”
Photos by Shoshana Rice and Shana Medel.