By David Karas | Correspondent
Immigration, and in particular, the nation’s southern border with Mexico, are common in today’s headlines, as well as in civic discourse, policy debates and in the nonprofit and faith communities.
Brunella Bowditch, an associate professor of biology in Georgian Court University, Lakewood, learned about immigration detention centers during the campus’ Critical Concerns Week and through the experience of several of her students who are part of the federal government’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, initiative.
“I would say the Sisters of Mercy opened my eyes to the immigrant issue, and once sensitized to it, I was able to be much more aware of those students who are currently suffering from political decisions, which are being made in D.C.,” she said.
Seeking to learn more and to witness the social issue firsthand, Bowditch recently traveled to the U.S.-Mexico border to participate in a five-day Border Immersion Experience. The program included a visit to Annunciation House in El Paso, Texas, a nonprofit that provides services for immigrants and those living in poverty, as well as the chance to speak with a U.S. Border Patrol agent and to visit the border region.
“I wanted to travel to El Paso and Mexico to see for myself the situation and understand why people might feel compelled to make the difficult decision to leave their country,” Bowditch said.
Reflecting on her travels, Bowditch noted the moving experience of visiting Annunciation House and meeting its founder, Ruben Garcia.
“It is incredible to have met someone who has dedicated 40 years of his life to helping immigrants, giving them a place to stay, helping them find family members in the U.S. and helping them find legal counsel,” she said. “In addition, it was nice to see the young volunteers that spend a year or more living in Annunciation House and helping.”
Another memorable aspect was speaking with a border patrol agent, who she said was working diligently to do his job. Bowditch said the agent emphasized the responsibilities of he and his colleagues, as well as the sympathy some have to immigrants.
“When we asked him about statistics, he did say that 95 percent of the people he sees trying to cross into the U.S. are mothers with children,” she said.
Bowditch has come away from the immersion experience with an appreciation not only of the complexities of the immigration issue and the plight of immigrants, but also for those who help them.
“We visited many places, and I was struck by how many women have dedicated their lives to the immigrant cause and to helping others,” she noted. “These women have worked day after day, their entire life, with dedication and love, not looking for applause from others, but instead motivated by doing what is right and just, striving to make a difference in the life of the poor and suffering.”
Among those women, she said, are Sisters of Charity and others who work with and for various organizations assisting immigrants.
The immersion program was sponsored by the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas, in coordination with the Missionary Society of St. Columban (the Columban Fathers), with the purpose of humanizing the issue of immigration by revealing the faces and lives behind the social issue.
She also returned home with information to share with her students. While she is a biology professor, she also teaches a general education course called “Finding Yourself in the Big Universe,” which includes a section on “being human” and teaching the Mercy values of respect, integrity and compassion.
“It is in light of these core values that we reflect on some of the social problems that still plague our society,” she said. “Talking about immigration has been natural for me this semester when I returned to my classroom. I intend to teach my students what I have learned also in future semesters.”
Bowditch shared a sentiment she intends to pass along to others as she talks about her experiences.
“Immigrants are people who just want a better and safe life,” she said. “I think we all need to keep our humanity in mind, as well as that of others, as we think of laws that might prevent others to come to this country.”