2016 Arizona Borderlands Trip: A Reflection

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2016 Arizona Borderlands Trip: A Reflection

On February 9-15, 2016, thirteen Humphrey Fellows from the University of Minnesota traveled to Arizona to study immigration with Humphrey Fellows in journalism at Arizona State University. Fellows learned hands-on through site visits and meetings with leaders and academics dealing with issues on the border. This year for the first time, Fellows crossed the border into Nogales, Sonora, Mexico to examine border issues from the Mexican side. The following is a reflection by Ja Aung Lu, who attended this cross-campus collaboration. The Humphrey Program is generously funded by the U.S. Department of State and administered by the Institute of International Education.


By Ja Aung Lu, 2015-2016 Humphrey Fellow from Burma/Myanmar


The cross-campus collaboration in Arizona was one of the most amazing and intense trips I have had during my stay in the United States. It was the first time traveling with our Humphrey cohort, as well as the Humphrey School of Public Affairs Fellows and the Arizona State University Fellows. This was refreshing, challenging, and a great learning experience.

This trip changed my perception of the immigration policies of both the United States and Mexico, as well as the law enforcement and criminal justice systems. It showed me not to judge situations until we see and experience what is actually going on in the entire system. This experience helps me to justify the gaps between duty-bearers (such as academic or policy-making levels and policy implementers) and rights holders (such as policy-affected people). It is also makes me realize the importance of setting mechanisms to safeguard the downsides of policy in order to treat citizens or people fairly.

There are many takeaways for me from these experiences. One of them was from a paper titled “Talking Across Difference” by Keith Woods (The Poynter Institute for Media Studies), which one of the Arizona State University coordinators gave us. I find that these are very important tips for us when we engage with people in order to mind the gaps and be prepared for a productive conversation as a professional or respectful person. The 10 tips are: Acknowledge the fear, Sharpen your language, Check in regularly, Build relationship, Become a student, Be honest, Seek clarification, Challenge with passion, Be willing to change, and Stay in the room. I will share these tips with my other colleagues, or use the same strategy to set ground rules before we start a meeting or workshop.

One of the more mind-blowing experiences of the trip was that of the law enforcement personnel engaging in their work with compassion while fulfilling their respective duties. This gave me the insight that we all share the same humanity, no matter whoever, whatever or wherever we are. Therefore, it is vital for human rights advocates to advocate for and facilitate people in realizing their common humanity and working together for the wellbeing of humankind.

On the other hand, this trip reminded us of the ill treatment given to people as they are dehumanized, criminalized, and/or put in a lower social status. This doesn’t only happen between law enforcement personnel and criminals, but can also happen among human rights activists when we engage with people who we think are human rights violators. I learned that it is important for us as human rights activists to practice what we preach, which means that we need to treat people equally regardless of their social status, sex, religion, color, or choices.

I want to acknowledge the coordinators from Arizona State University and the University of Minnesota for their hard work and for giving us the opportunity to have this experience, which will truly benefit our efforts to become better coordinators, policy makers, advocates, journalists, and law enforcement personnel. I would like to encourage the coordinators and IIE to continue this type of activity and funding for this project. It is worth it to take the challenges that we faced and that future groups may also face, to help us (the International Institute of Education, the coordinators, and the Fellows) to improve and mature together.


In the photo: Humphrey Fellows at Grupos Beta in Nogales, Sonora, Mexico