Immigration policy is often discussed in abstract tones, removing the human element. To move beyond those conversations, in September 2023 the Truman Center hosted a two-day experiential learning workshop in San Diego and Tijuana for members of the Truman National Security Project. Seventeen Truman members traveled from around the country, joined by members from Truman’s San Diego chapter, to delve into immigration dynamics and the human impact on both sides of the border.
The workshop opened with an immersive experience at the border, with members meeting with Mexican officials from the National Institute of Migration (Instituto Nacional de Migración - INAMI). The officials explained to Truman members how the Mexican government manages migration on its side of the border and led a tour of the INAMI facility, which included a visit to the border wall that separates the U.S. and Mexico.
“As much data as we collect, and as much research as we do, and as much knowledge as we try to generate, nothing really replaces having the personal experience of going and seeing these issues in person…It was incredibly enlightening for me and gives me tangible personal experiences that I can bring back to my lab and can use to educate me and my work.”
After meeting with INAMI, members visited two shelters in Tijuana that house individuals and families seeking to cross the border into the United States. The first shelter, run by the Latina Muslim Foundation, was the first refugee shelter in the city providing services to Muslim refugees from the Middle East, Africa, and Central Asia. During their visit, members observed daily operations and talked with refugees about their experiences in Mexico and navigating the U.S. immigration system. Many of the refugees in this shelter are Afghans who fled after the 2021 evacuation and traveled to Brazil before making their way to the U.S. border, making the visit especially meaningful for Truman members who supported the evacuation efforts.
“It was a really important opportunity to take what has been an abstract discourse on immigration, a narrative that has been politically charged, and make it really human and make it really concrete…it has really made me think how my work in education can be leveraged to support these individuals.”
During a visit to a second shelter in Tijuana, the group met with shelter staff to discuss the ongoing challenges in providing essential support to a growing number of migrants. After returning to the U.S., the group visited a respite shelter operated by Jewish Family Services of San Diego, where they learned about the organization's coordination with California officials and its legal and transitional assistance to migrants and their families as they seek to reach their final destinations and adapt to life in the U.S.
“As the daughter of an immigrant it really hit home for me. Seeing people going through their circumstances and the amount of resilience that they’ve gone through to be able to make a better life for themselves was really touching. I hope that through this opportunity we can all work together to identify better solutions to our broken immigration system.”
The second day of the workshop sought to deepen members’ understanding of what they saw in Tijuana and identify solutions to complex migration challenges. Truman partnered with the University of San Diego’s Joan B. Kroc School of Peace Studies to organize a series of panel discussions on border governance with local officials and experts that focused on:
- The intersection of the border and the economy, including key trade partnerships, labor market dynamics, and the economic implications of immigration policy
- The border and climate change, including measures that San Diego is taking to combat climate change and secure the future of the city
- Daily life at the border, including the need for clean water access and the state of education and infrastructure
- The view from elected leaders, which featured local and federal officials from both the U.S. and Mexico, who emphasized the importance of funding and strategic cooperation between the two countries
Members are taking what they saw and learned in Tijuana and San Diego back to their communities to push for immigration policies that are more humane, strategic and secure. At the Truman Center, we remain resolute in our pursuit of timely, principled, and innovative solutions to the pressing national security challenges of our time.
Summary by Karlee Rockstroh and Lois Ramilo