The Youth Venture Immigration and Borderlands Learning Tour took place July 15-23, in Douglas and Tucson, Arizona. The young adult participants learned about the immigration process and the people who experience it. The encounters affected some of the participants so deeply that they are gathering funds to send to organizations they learned from on the trip.
A group of nine young adults and six leaders from four communities in the United States came together in mid-July to participate in the Youth Venture Immigration and Borderlands Learning Tour. From July 15-23, the group met with and learned from organizations and people at the forefront of immigration and migrant rights.
Youth Venture is a Mennonite Mission Network program for young adults, 15-22 years of age.
The learning tour, in partnership with Mennonite Central Committee (MCC), expanded the young adults' understanding of migration laws and policies. They walked along a portion of the physical border wall, participated in vigils and cross plantings for those who died trying to cross the desert, and grew closer together 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, a participant from the Evangelical Garifuna Church of Houston (Texas).
Estrada said that one challenge she experienced during the trip was putting herself in the shoes of people who are undocumented. Part of the learning tour included doing exactly that. The participants experienced an immigration simulation, in which they were split into groups and got a small taste of the dangers and bureaucracy that people who are undocumented regularly experience. "It's not fair what they have go through and what they [have to] do just to get [to the United States]," Estrada said after the simulation.
Katherine Smith, border and migration outreach coordinator at MCC, organizes learning tours in the Douglas and Tucson areas, including this one. Smith noted that the participants in the Youth Venture group were younger than most people in the tours she normally leads, which opens more doors for these younger participants to continue learning in the future
"Adults that come [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]."
Smith likened the experience to a trip she took when she was in high school that inspired her to study Spanish in college. That trip pushed her to join MCC's Service and Learning Together program, which resulted in her working for MCC in border and migration outreach. She hopes that this trip leads the participants to further outreach and service.
Arloa Bontrager, regional co-administrator for North America — including Mission Network's short-term service programs SOOP and Youth Venture — found the vigils and cross plantings to be some of the most significant activities during the trip. In one act of remembrance, the group wrote the names of women who had died while migrating in chalk on a section of sidewalk. They also planted crosses where people who were migrating had died in the desert.
Judy Bourg is a School Sister of Notre Dame who helps organize the cross plantings. She found it heartwarming to see such a diverse group of young people from across the United States participating, she said. She also said it was apparent that this group of young people had a thirst to learn more about immigrant experiences in the borderlands. "From their sharing during our prayer, it was evident that they possessed a deep awareness of the humanity of each migrant, who risked their lives for the betterment of their families," Bourg said.
The Healing Our Borders vigil has been held every Tuesday in Douglas for 22 years. During these vigils, names of those that have died trying to cross the desert are read, and after each name, participants say, "Presente," recognizing their presence. "[Participating in the vigil] was a very moving experience," Bontrager said. "To name them and remember them."
A few of the participants said that they are collecting money to send to some of the partners they visited in Douglas and Tucson. Many of the young adults are excited for another chance to learn and serve.
Bethany Saravia, another participant from the Evangelical Garifuna Church of Houston, said that she would absolutely repeat the experience "I'm looking forward to more trips with Youth Venture, MCC or any other organizations that [work] with migration."