Mock Border Walls Calling for Humane Immigration Reform on Jesuit Campuses Draw Anti-Immigrant Response

BY ISN STAFFApril 14, 2016

“Please take this opportunity to learn more about the reality of the immigrant,” was the invitation that John Carroll University (JCU) students offered as they erected a mock “border wall” in two locations on their campus earlier this week. The wall was created by JCU’s Students for Social Justice (SSJ) with support from the campus Latin American Student Association (LASA). Student organizers shared via social media that the wall was established to, “shed light on the experiences of immigrants in the U.S. and the negative impact prejudiced and intolerant rhetoric has on our nation.”

The mock-border walls offered passers-by insights into many challenges faced by those who choose to migrate to the United States, including an overview of current U.S. immigration policy, the pathways that migrants take from Central America in hopes of entering the U.S. under refugee or asylum status, and also relayed the stories of individual people that JCU students came to know during immigration-related experiences on the U.S.-Mexico border at places like the Kino Border Initiative, a Jesuit-sponsored bi-national ministry based in Nogales, Arizona.

Little did student organizers, who intended for the wall to create dialogue, know that it would become so controversial. The same evening that it was constructed, fellow John Carroll students offered their perspective on the immigration issue with anti-immigrant statements and messages of support for the candidacy of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, drawn in chalk around campus and by placing anti-immigrant messages on the wall. (See: Cleveland Plain Dealer & WOIO Channel 19)

That night the wall became a place of intense discussion, inspiring members of SSJ and LASA  to sleep outside to ensure it remained until morning in solidarity with migrants and JCU students of immigrant backgrounds. The following day, campus members, including faculty, staff, and students gathered for a prayer service at the border walls in front of the student center.

That evening the LASA and SSJ organizers held a less contested “Somos Unidos” gathering to share stories, music, poetry and fellowship, and to promote a “culture of inclusion.”

In a statement posted on social media, Grace Donnelly (JCU ’16), a member of Students for Social Justice, offered a response to the anti-immigrant messages, “I call on the JCU community to be voices for justice as our campus navigates how to respond to the hate we have seen in the last few days. I encourage you all to be part of the movement to make our campus more inclusive and just. Learn more about the issues we are advocating for so you can respond to ignorance with knowledge and understanding.”

Sadly, this was not the first border wall at a Jesuit university to be defaced this month. Students at Loyola Marymount University had a similar experience last week when campus protesters spray-painted the name of Mr. Trump and slogans associated with his campaign platform over mock border wall messages, including covering quotations from sacred scripture with the word “Trump.” (See: Los Angeles Times)

At Saint Joseph’s University (SJU), similar events took place in mid-February when students and staff affiliated with SJU’s campus ministry department established a wall to coincide with the Ignatian Solidarity Network’s Pope2Border campaign and Pope Francis’s visit to the U.S.-Mexico border on February 17, 2016.  Students seeking to critique the pro-immigrant message erected their own border wall with anti-immigrant messages encouraging more restrictive immigration policies. In an op-ed responding to the counter wall, Beth Ford, assistant director of campus ministry at SJU expressed concern for the “expressions of fear, racism, or xenophobia” that were presented. Ford invited campus community members to work together against these sentiments on Saint Joseph’s campus and to “join together as an institution of Jesuit higher education in learning, dialogue, encounter, solidarity, and prayer.”

During his homily on the U.S.-Mexico border in February, Pope Francis spoke of a “voice crying out in the wilderness,” during Jesus’s time, but also today in the voice of the migrant and immigrant.  “We still have time to transform what is destroying us as a people, what is demeaning our humanity,” he said. “Let us together ask our God for the gift of conversion, the gift of tears,” he said as an invitation to Catholics and others to seek new ways of seeing immigrant brothers and sisters.

Francis’s visit builds on the  efforts of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and their Justice for Immigrants campaign, which has taken strong stances in calling for humane comprehensive immigration reform as well as executive actions by the Obama administration to offer undocumented people relief until such reforms are passed in Congress. In 2013, Jesuit leaders and institutions joined in this support when the Jesuit provincials published a letter undersigned by over one hundred Jesuit institutions, calling for humane immigration reform.  Leaders in Jesuit higher education have also taken strong stances on immigration, particularly in expressing support for undocumented students attending Jesuit colleges and universities. Loyola University Chicago’s medical school became the first U.S. medical program to publicly accept undocumented medical students, Fairfield University partnered with other Jesuit institutions to publish research on the experience of students in Jesuit higher education, and Saint Peter’s University established a campus center to support the needs of undocumented students on their Jersey City campus.

Over the past five years, advocacy for comprehensive immigration reform has held a prominent place in the work of the Ignatian Solidarity Network. Thousands of attendees to the Ignatian Family Teach-In for Justice and participants in Ignatian Family Advocacy Month have made visits to congressional offices to advocate for immigration reform and against anti-immigrant legislation. Next week will mark another important date for undocumented persons in the United States seeking relief from Obama administration executive actions. The U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments regarding a lawsuit filed by over 20 state governors claiming that the Deferred Action for  Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and Deferred Action for Parental Accountability (DAPA) programs exceed the powers of the executive branch. Over 600,000 young people have received deferred action regarding their immigration status, allowing them attend college or serve in the U.S. military, and then contribute to a U.S. community and economy.

How will Election 2016 continue to influence the public debate on immigration reform, particularly on Jesuit campuses? Only time will tell. But it is clear that for many students, taking Pope Francis’s approach of bringing the human face to the forefront of the debate is imperative. 

5 replies
  1. Guadalupe Jiménez Codinach
    Guadalupe Jiménez Codinach says:

    As a Mexican historian I would like to remind our US neighbors that México suffered an invasion, an injust war and the mutilation of half of its land in 1848 to the US. How can anyone call the Mexican inmigrants to the land that belonged to their ancestors “ilegal” and “crimínals? Since 1803 San Diego and San Francisco and Mexican California was a target of US expansionism, as well as Texas in 1810, 1813, 1817 . This information can be verified at the National Archives, Washington DC
    As Jesuit ex student at the Iberoamericana University, México City, I congratúlate Jesuit Universities, institutes and groups that work on behalf of our brothers and sisters that only want to work and have a better life. The Holy Family also had to migrate.

    • Alex
      Alex says:

      Give me a break, you do realize that the land that Mexico “owned” used to belong to Spain. Spain took that land from the native Americans and Aztecs. By your logic the Mexicans are just as bad as the Americans. The information that you say can be verified distorts the actual history of the conflict.
      It was a perfectly just war, the Mexicans actually started it. On April 25, 1846, a Mexican cavalry division attacked a group of U.S. soldiers in the disputed zone under the command of General Zachary Taylor, killing about a dozen.The US congress voted to go to war with Mexico after this unprovoked attack.
      You are hardly an historian if you fail to mention both sides of the story. You are just a partisan hack with flawed logic and an overall lack of understanding of this issue. I certainly hope Mr. Trump wins this next election and I think Jesuit universities should not take such a leftist point of view on this issue.

  2. Alex
    Alex says:

    We need to make America great again! What is so bad about erecting a wall between Mexico and America? We can’t just let people into our country without knowing who they are. Europe paid the price for allowing syrian refugees into their country as seen by the recent terrorist attacks. We should not follow in their failed footsteps. The wall is about controlling who comes into our country and when they come in. Mr. Trump wants more people to come in legally rather illegally, I fail to see how that is such a racist point of view. Leftists are too quick to use that term “racist” which distorts the actual meaning of the term. TRUMP 2016!!!


Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. […] In February 2016, ISN initiated a Pope2Border campaign to lift up Pope Francis’s message of compassion for immigrants during his trip to the U.S.-Mexico border. Campus student groups were invited to establish campus mock border walls as a way to humanize the issue of immigration reform and initiate campus dialogue. On a number of campuses, the mock walls were defaced with anti-immigrant or racist statements. […]

  2. […] Now being one year and almost 2,500 miles removed from my undergraduate thesis, the events at Kent State have taken even greater significance, both in my life and in the events that have transpired in the past year. Historically, Kent State, it turns out, had impacted a larger portion of the country than just the region; this, for example, is a leaflet distributed on my graduate studies campus, the University of Washington, following the events at Kent State. It invites students to the Husky Union Building (the HUB) to discuss the events and come up with a political action plan for their own campus, providing evidence that, over two thousand miles away, students in Seattle felt that the “Four Dead in Ohio” were like four of their own. Today, I see echoes of Kent State everywhere: at a meeting where Black and minority students discuss ways for their campus to be more inclusive; in Ferguson, Baltimore, Cleveland, and other places where citizens gather together in support of breaking down discriminatory practices in their communities; and in the recent discussions of immigration on college campuses (here and here). […]

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