Border Crisis Teach-In examines political climate

Chapman faculty and students gathered at the Cross-Cultural Center to discuss issues around the U.S.-Mexico Border at the last event for the LatinX Heritage Month. Photo by Kali Hoffman, photo editor

To culminate the month-long celebration of LatinX Heritage Month, Chapman staff and students gathered in the Cross-Cultural Center (CCC) to discuss the current political climate revolving around the border.

The teach-in featured a panel of Orange residents, Chapman professors and students knowledgeable about the border, xenophobia and anti-immigrant sentiment. The panel examined issues regarding citizenship, U.S. foreign policy, immigration rights and laws, detainment centers and role of borders in society.

The CCC hoped the event would “inspire students to act upon migrant justice and to delve into the topic and provide a safe space for dialogue,” according to a CCC program assistant.

Hilmi Ulas, a peace studies professor, discussed soft borders – a line between countries – and hard borders – heavily militarized and guarded structures – in current societies. The U.S. border with Mexico is an example of a hard border.

“Hard borders serve a symbolic function to display ‘the good people’ and ‘the bad people,’” Ulas said. “This helps the government manipulate the relationships within society.”

Hard borders may exist when there is economic differences between the two populations. This has led to the creation of a caste system, where the higher class stand above immigrants. Ulas said this also contributes to zombiism, an ideology where immigrants are viewed as “mindless invaders,” based on the human desire to create two distinct groups: “us” and “them.”

“Currently, zombies are border crossers: mindless, uncivilized and unintelligible. They cannot integrate into our society,” Ulas said. “There is this fear that our civilization is going to be destroyed and they are a mass threat to Americans and everything America stands for.” Marisa Cianciarulo, a professor at Dale E. Fowler School of Law, said that the current immigration policy is to detain asylum-seekers that cross the border illegally, which has occurred for long periods of time.

“The volume of detainment has changed significantly and the conditions of detention are quite severe. I have read practitioners who visited the detainment centers and said they are overcrowded, inhospitable and smell unclean,” said Cianciarulo, who practiced immigration law between 1998 and 2006.

“One difference in the past year is the increased separation of children from their parents. That is unprecedented with respect to asylum seekers.” Natalia Ventura, a featured student panelist at the teach-in, grew up in Chula Vista – approximately eight miles from the U.S.-Mexico border – and witnessed the militarization of the border first hand.

“Since I was young, I have crossed the border to visit family and go to the orthodontist when I had braces. However, in recent years and under the current administration, the border has become more militarized,” Ventura said. “There are huge amount of unnecessary barbed wired and the demeanor of U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents are more aggressive.”

After the panelist discussion, Ventura invited attendees to decorate tote bags with “messages of hope and positivity.” She encouraged participants to carry the tote bags around campus as a “way to counteract the Patriot Front stickers and its anti-immigration statements.”

Students were also encouraged to write postcards to Mark Murphy, the mayor of Orange, and request that Orange become a sanctuary city for immigrants. Talisa Flores, a history major, attended the event because of her interest in Mexican-American history and the current political climate.

“The panel covered all levels of immigration, economically and socially. It put everything I thought I knew about the border into one place,” Flores said. “I learned that issues regarding immigration don’t just stop at Mexico, but affects all of Latin America. It’s not just the United States versus Mexico; the issue spans much farther than that.”