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Journeying Towards Justice

An Interview with Lauren Hewitt '21 & Sofia Sandoval Larco '21

Lauren Hewitt '21 and Sofia Sandoval Larco '21            

Over the summer of 2020, the Ignatian Center was looking for virtual opportunities to stay connected to our students and for our students to continue working on advocacy and justice in new ways. We extended invitations to former Immersion students to attend the Ignatian Solidarity Networks virtual Migration Justice Summit. Fourteen SCU students participated in the summit, hearing from different speakers about community organizing and advocacy, learning about current challenges within immigration justice, and creating action plans to work towards migration justice on campus. In addition to paying for their attendance, we hosted additional meetings for them to work together as a group for SCU planning. 

Two of those students, Lauren Hewitt '21 and Sofia Sandoval Larco '21 returned from the summit and became involved with the student organization Undocumented Students and Allies Association (USAA) with the goals of raising awareness about immigration justice and supporting community members who have experienced or been impacted by immigration. Their involvement ultimately led them to be Immersion Coordinators for the Kino Border Virtual Immersion. Read about their experiences and plans for future advocacy in this interview.

Why did you sign up for the virtual migration justice summit?

Lauren: I signed up for the virtual migration justice summit because I felt compelled to learn more about immigration processes and experiences in the United States. I also wanted to stay connected to my peers at Santa Clara as well as the Ignatian Center, and this was a wonderful opportunity to do so while even meeting many new students who later became close friends.

Sofia: Last summer I was feeling like I wasn’t fully taking advantage of the resources provided by Santa Clara. I saw this opportunity in an email sent to me personally from my Costa Rica Immersion Leader, and so I decided to apply with another friend. We didn’t know what to expect but it was not too big of a time commitment and delving into topics related to migration justice was something we both felt strongly compelled to do.

What were some of the key takeaways for you from the summit? What information/ tools/ skills were new for you?

Lauren: I learned so much about different U.S. policies relating to migration, which was extremely valuable as I have never learned much about these complex factors that greatly impact immigrants’ ability to legally enter the U.S. Perhaps even more valuable, however, was the way that this summit explored the lived experiences of individuals trying to enter the U.S. and those who already have done so. I think this was important for me, as a born U.S. citizen, because it helped me understand the many challenges that migrants face in trying to support themselves and their families by leaving their homes. This summit taught us how to use different terminology correctly, how to start a migration justice campaign on college campuses, and how to practice and demonstrate empathy for and solidarity with migrant communities.

How did the summit lead to your work with USAA?

Lauren: Once the summit concluded, our cohort recognized that there was a lot of potential work we could do within the SCU community to both raise awareness about immigration justice and support community members who have experienced or been impacted by immigration. We were very inspired by what we learned was taking place on other college campuses, and were motivated to translate that into events that would suit our unique community.

What work has USAA been doing this year?

Sofia: We’ve done everything from writing letters to representatives to close child detention facilities in southern Texas, to writing letters to actual migrant detainees in ICE prisons to sympathize with their plight. Through our Instagram page (run by Lauren and me) we research, repost and highlight immigrant stories and current events related to migration justice. As a whole, we have had events aimed to educate our peers about the current situation of immigration in the U.S, we’ve led a couple of UndocuAlly Trainings, provided certificates to students upon completion of the course, we’ve had countless guest speakers, and we’ve had storytelling workshops, and documentary streaming (aka movie) nights. We have had fundraising events for the Cabrini Fund, and Kino Border Initiatives (KBI); and we even published an op-ed in the Santa Clara Magazine - we’ve really done it all!

Kino Border Virtual Immersion Screenshot

How were you able to connect your work with the migration summit and USAA with the role of being an Immersion Coordinator?

Sofia: All the work and knowledge we garnered through our experiences in the migration summit and through our work in USAA culminated in us being selected as Immersion Coordinators for the Kino Border Immersion. In theory, we knew about the current immigration system, we understood some of the history, and we were doing the work to bring awareness to our campus; however, we hadn’t had many opportunities to accompany migrants, hear their stories, and have a conversation with them on a (virtual) face-to-face basis. In our Immersion, we were able to put a face, name, and history to the many stories and statistics we hear on the news. Our whole group learned that we all deserve to be treated with dignity, and we were better able to understand the nuanced immigration experience.  

How did your own identity and story impact your experiences with these events?

Lauren: My family has been minimally impacted by immigration, and so I entered into these different spaces with the privilege of learning about immigration injustices for the first time. Over the past year, I have learned more and more about how fortunate I am to have been born a U.S. citizen and the many ways in which that citizenship has made my life simpler. Becoming more aware of these privileges and meeting and connecting with people who have lived their lives without them have motivated me to use my status as a citizen to support those who are trying to achieve U.S. citizenship. I know that I have the opportunity to advocate for migration justice without risking my or my family’s safety and security, and I am committed to doing so after my time at SCU.

Sofia: As an international student from Ecuador, and U.S. permanent resident, I learned about the privilege that comes with having a green card. There were certain things I couldn’t do as a resident, but it’s certainly a challenge to live in this country without legal documentation. During my time at SCU I became aware of the psychological, financial, and social strain that many undocumented individuals experience. My partner grew up in a mixed status family and I understood how this greatly impacted his upbringing, and how it continues to impact his family today. I knew it was important to bring awareness to these stories and highlight the fact that honest and good people are being treated unjustly everyday due to their immigration status in the U.S.

What impact did the Immersion experience have on you?  How did it provide additional information or context that you did not already have?

Lauren: The Immersion experience introduced me to the lived experience of those at the border. Hearing from individuals who are currently at the border or have already crossed it was incredibly important for understanding all that they must endure in the pursuit of safer and more prosperous lives for themselves and their families. I have read statistics about border crossings, but this Immersion offered real stories of those who are impacted directly by our immigration policies, which was far more impactful than reading about the situation from an emotional and psychological distance. Overall, this Immersion experience impacted me more than I thought would be possible with a virtual program and reaffirmed my commitment to taking part in the movement for migration justice.

Sofia: The Immersion experience encouraged us to “humanize, accompany and complicate” migration justice issues, and I was really able to understand how convoluted these ideas were. During our Immersion we got to meet a rancher who lives in the U.S. Mexico border and is pro-wall. It was difficult to listen to her perspective without shutting her off completely, but as a group I believe we were able to humanize her experience and listen to her with an open mind. I don’t think I have ever truly felt empathy for someone I disagree with before this conversation. We also had a very impactful session where we were able to debunk some migration-related myths. We were asked to answer questions like, “What country has the most refugees in the world?” and “What country has the most emigrants in the world?” We were able to unlearn some of the stereotypes that had been used to answer these questions, and that was very humbling.  

What action has taken place since the Kino Border program?

Sofia: I was in charge of coordinating our “Share” follow up action plan (part of DASH - Defend, Accompany, SHare) post-Immersion, and we had the honor of hearing Sister Engracia Robles, a humanist working for KBI since its inception, talk to us about her recently published book titled, Voices of the Border. This book is a compilation of migrant testimonies Engracia has heard and written down during her time at KBI. Through USAA we held a virtual event where Sister Engracia provided a breakdown of each chapter of her book (chapters included themes on Gendered Violence, Family Separation, etc.) and then answered our questions in a Q&A.

How do you see yourself continuing immigration justice work post graduation?

Lauren: This summer, I have been volunteering with a local immigration law center. My role there is to help conduct literature research to support the writing of grant proposals. I am grateful to be involved in indirectly supporting my local migrant community and the services provided by the immigration law center. I also hope to pursue a legal career in the near future, and experiences such as our Kino Border Immersion have helped me determine that I want to support migrants and immigration justice within my career.

Sofia: I will definitely continue supporting USAA in any way that I can post graduation, and I will keep looking for ways to read, advocate, and educate myself more on migration-related issues. I have stayed in contact with Robert Kee, our point of contact in reaching migrants in ICE detention, and I want to continue writing to detainees in ICE prisons to accompany them and learn about them as well. 

What impact did being able to participate in all three of these experiences have on your time at SCU?

Sofia: These three experiences were some of the highlights in my SCU experience. I have learned to become a more empathic and compassionate individual through my work with USAA and the Ignatian Center, and through the relationships I have built with my incredible coworkers and peers. Thanks to the opportunities provided by the Ignatian Center I am certain that for my work and life to be meaningful I want to continue being an ally and advocate to those who are othered. 

What would you share with students interested in getting involved with immigration justice at SCU?

Lauren: I would let these students know that there are so many opportunities for them to get involved in many different capacities. My involvement with immigration justice became much more direct last summer through my participation in the migration justice summit, and so I want these students to know that they don’t have to know everything about the issues before they get involved—what matters most is that they show their solidarity for migrant communities in whatever way works best for them. I would recommend that these students assess their capacity to be involved in this work, and then consider taking classes related to immigration, seeing what USAA is up to, or connecting with the Ignatian Center or SCCAP to find ways to get involved.