On a learning tour to the U.S. border with Mexico in July, a group of young adults visited organizations and people working in immigration and migrant rights.
Their encounters affected some so deeply that they began gathering funds to send to organizations they learned from on the trip.
Nine young adults and six leaders joined the weeklong Youth Venture Immigration and Borderlands Learning Tour in Douglas and Tucson, Ariz.
Youth Venture is a Mennonite Mission Network program for young adults, 15-22 years old.
The tour, in partnership with Mennonite Central Committee, expanded participants’ understanding of migration laws and policies. They walked along a portion of the border wall, took part in vigils and cross plantings for those who died trying to cross the desert and grew closer through shared learning.
“[We were] always busy — learning and experiencing new things, getting to meet new people, bonding with them, getting to know each other,” said Jeifany Estrada from Evangelical Garifuna Church of Houston.
She and others experienced an immigration simulation, in which groups got a small taste of the dangers and bureaucracy that people who are undocumented regularly experience.
“It’s not fair what they have to go through and what they [have to] do” to get to the United States, Estrada said after the simulation.
Katherine Smith, MCC border and migration outreach coordinator, organizes learning tours in the Douglas and Tucson areas, including this one. She said the Youth Venture group was younger than most tour groups she leads. She believes the experience will open doors to continue learning and serving.
“Adults [on the tours] are already interested in immigration issues and have had a longer time to think about [them],” Smith said. “And yes, they are impacted, but I don’t know that it changes the trajectory of their lives like it has with some of these [young adults].”
Vigils and cross plantings were some of the most significant activities. In an act of remembrance, the group wrote in chalk on a sidewalk the names of women who died while migrating. They planted crosses where people migrating died in the desert.
Judy Bourg, a member of the School Sisters of Notre Dame who helps organize the cross plantings, found it heartwarming to see such a diverse group of young people.
“From their sharing during our prayer, it was evident that they possessed a deep awareness of the humanity of each migrant, who risked their life for the betterment of their family,” she said.
A few of the participants are collecting money to send to some of the partners they visited in Arizona. Many are excited for another chance to learn and serve.
“I’m looking forward to more trips with Youth Venture, MCC or any other organizations that [work] with migration,” said Bethany Saravia from Evangelical Garifuna Church of Houston.