During the winter of this year I joined nine students and two instructors from Proctor Academy camping and learning in the southwest area of the United States. The program we were on is called Mountain Classroom and it is an option for juniors and seniors to spend a term off campus.
For a few days in Tucson, Arizona the focus was on immigration and the border between the United States and Mexico. We partnered with Borderlinks, a non-profit organization that specializes in educating groups about immigration issues in Tucson. They took us to an Operation Streamline court proceeding where we witnessed undocumented immigrants get deported. The events that we were a part of did not seem like they could possibly be real. They seemed to come straight out of some horror movie. As part of our unit on immigration, we walked along the border and dropped off jugs of water for people to help them survive the harsh climate. As we were doing this we were told that sometimes Border Patrol agents will slash or kick the jugs. The water that could help save lives is then immediately sucked up by the desert. That same night, we met Derik. Derik is the person that inspired me and another student, Sam Fulton, to fundraise for Borderlinks who help people like Derik during our Senior Project.
Derik walked into the Borderlinks headquarters so inconspicuously, we did not even notice his presence. Even though he was extremely shy, he had a huge smile. He appeared to be in his early twenties. We then learned that he did not speak English, and Cathie, a member of Borderlinks would translate for us. He started speaking in a quiet voice, but it seemed loud because we were all silent. We could tell that his story was going to be powerful. His story was direct and precise. He did not exaggerate on anything; he didn’t need to. He told us that he was from Honduras and was in the military. When gangs took over the military, he either had to join the gangs or be killed. He decided he needed to leave so he entered into Mexico. Because of the color of his skin he was not safe in Mexico either. He had to hide from Mexican Immigration and the Police. He rode on a train in Mexico all the way up to the Mexico/US border. During the ride he got robbed. Finally, he tried crossing the border into the United States. Because the desert is so big and the climate is so extreme, it is easy to get lost. That is what happened to Derik.
After getting lost in the desert, he came across a lady who was involved with No More Deaths, an organization whose goal is zero deaths of people trying to cross the border. No More Deaths gave him a place to stay and something to eat for a few days. He continued his journey after that, but quickly got caught by border patrol. He was placed in an immigration detention center for six months and was granted a bond of twelve-thousand dollars. He also was given an ankle monitor, and he cannot take it off until he has given them $9600.
Throughout the telling of his story, Derik visibly grew more relaxed. He made eye contact with us and I think he realized that we were open to hearing his story. While I was listening to Derik speak, I realized that the only thing more unwavering than his smile was his sense of hopefulness. He was sitting with a group of strangers in a country full of strangers. He had almost died in his own country and he had almost died trying to get to this country. And here he was, telling his story without one complaint or harsh word. It was unbelievable. His story of how he got into this country showed me the cruelty of our immigration system. His reward for making it all the way here without dying is to pay twelve-thousand dollars. All he wants is a stable life where he can work and make a living and that is why I want to help him.
At Proctor Academy, the seniors have the option of doing Senior Project. It is during the last three weeks of Senior year and it is a time when students can create their own project and focus only on that project. The project must have set goals and be planned out and approved beforehand. Sam and I decided the same night that we talked to Derik that we wanted our Senior Project to help Derik in some way. After thinking about it some more and talking with our instructors, we decided that we should do fundraising to help Derik get his ankle monitor removed. The monitor costs 400 dollars a month so it would save a lot of money if he could get it off. Our Senior Project idea was the perfect way we could help make a difference, and after learning about the complexity of our immigration system, we decided the best thing to do was to start by helping one person through one non-profit.
It may seem that immigration is irrelevant in New Hampshire because we are so far away from the southern border. I learned differently on Monday, May 14, 2018. That day I attended a celebration at Manchester Community College that showcased The Endowment for Health initiatives in Concord, Manchester, Nashua, and Laconia and the work they do for immigrants living there. It is called the Immigration Integration Initiative and its main goal is welcoming immigrants into the state. I met many immigrants there who are living in New Hampshire. Each city has its own committee that does welcoming ceremonies and parades for new Americans.
Through my experiences in the American Southwest and at the event at Manchester Community College, I have learned so much more about immigration and how it relates to me. Regardless of citizenship status, we are all people who want to belong in a community and live stable lives.
Please consider donating money to my Senior Project at Proctor Academy. With your help, we could improve the life of one man who is trying to find a safe place to live. Any amount will help! Donations can be made online at www.borderlinks.org/take-action/, and request the donations be used to help Derik.
Most importantly, however, we need to be welcoming to all people. Many people are immigrants who are searching for a stable life. Nothing would be more helpful than simply listening to their stories. Money will definitely help these immigrants, but we want to do more than just feel bad and give money. We want to bring awareness to the challenges of being an immigrant so that we can all be more accepting and welcoming in the future.