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Border Visit Illuminates BC Social Work Immigration Course

BCSSW Professors Westy Egmont and Maryanne Loughry with a group of students at the Arizona/Mexico border
School of Social Work Associate Professor of Macro Practice Westy Egmont, director of the BC Immigrant Integration Lab, and part-time faculty member Maryanne Loughry, RSM, associate director of Jesuit Refugee Service Australia, took a group of students to the Arizona-Mexico border as part of an innovative course on immigration.

FEBRUARY 6, 2015

Once again, the United States is at a crossroads on the issue of immigration. In the wake of President Obama’s recent executive order allowing some five million undocumented persons to stay in the U.S. at least temporarily, community leaders across the country are faced with the challenge of building new systems to better integrate immigrants into American life.

An innovative course at the Boston College School of Social Work is addressing this challenge head-on, and offering a unique field-based experience for a next generation of social workers devoted to shaping immigration policy. "Services to Migrants: A Border Perspective" is co-taught by BCSSW Associate Professor of Macro Practice Westy Egmont, director of the BC Immigrant Integration Lab, and part-time faculty member Maryanne Loughry, RSM, associate director of Jesuit Refugee Service Australia and an advisor to the Australian government on migration and refugee matters.

The course included two weeks of recent intensive on-the-ground inquiry along the Arizona/Mexico border. Twelve select MSW students walked the desert where hundreds of thousands of immigrants have crossed into the United States, and where many others have died; they visited detention centers where undocumented men, women and children are locked up between countries; and they met face to face with migrants who described their experiences in search of a better life.

It was these personal stories of perseverance that made the greatest impact on MSW student Luzelly Frias. Visiting a detention center on the American side of the border, Frias recognized a detainee whom she had met just two days earlier at the Kino Border Initiative (KBI) Aid Center for Deported Migrants in Mexico, a bi-national Jesuit organization that gives direct humanitarian care to migrants and promotes change in immigration policy. They exchanged nods of recognition, and she noticed that he was now wearing the jumpsuit issued to all those in the facility.

“It made it so real to be able to say, ‘I know that person, I had breakfast with him, and he is a person with a story and a family,’” said Frias. “It’s thought-provoking to be able to put a face to this truly pressing social justice issue.”

One morning, the group was guided on a desert walk by Kathy Babcock, a volunteer with the Green Valley Sahuarita Samaritans, which provides water, food, and first aid to migrants suffering from heat, dehydration and other injuries associated with the often grueling trek from places as far away as Central America.  Read more about the "Services to Migrants: A Border Perspective" course in the Boston College Chronicle »