Exploring Border Narratives: Another Successful Trip for the International Relations Policy Task Force

A group of students stand in front of a screened wall.
Schar School students traveled to the United States-Mexico border over spring break.

For the second time since its formation, members of the International Relations Policy Task Force (IRTF) at the Schar School of Policy and Government traveled to the United States-Mexico border in March to witness firsthand the causes and consequences of competing narratives surrounding border dynamics.

William Barker, a public administration student who joined the 1-credit, spring break study-abroad trip for the second time, reflected on the transformative nature of the trip, expressing that it “reaffirmed my passion for international relations and certainly informed me of what I want to do after graduation.”

Kaylee Fernandez, a sophomore studying government and International politics, participated in the Democracy Lab learning community last year. Now, as a member of the IRTF, the trip piqued her interest in policy development and immigration. 

 “The firsthand exposure to the southern border provided a deeper and new perspective essential for meaningful discourse on immigration issues,” she said. 

Abara, a nonprofit organization dedicated to fostering peace through educational programs around immigration and border realities, hosted the IRTF students. Abara provided the students with an immersive and vulnerable experiences in some of the 32 shelters with which they work both in El Paso, Texas, and Juárez, Mexico. The objective of these volunteer experiences was to rehumanize relationships outside the news cycles and allow students to fully engage with those directly impacted by the border issues, particularly migrants. Engagement ranged from community service activities such as assisting in the kitchen and garden to engaging in conversations and recreational activities with locals.

“Being able to directly interact with migrants facing challenges at the border and putting faces to the topics often discussed in political discourse was incredible and provided me with an experience I will never forget,” Fernandez said. 

Working with Abara left an undeniable impact on the students, fostering a deeper comprehension of border dynamics and the individuals affected. Engaging with local community members and activists further enriched their understanding.

“The media often shapes public opinion on immigration yet fails to capture the perspectives of the migrants themselves,” Fernandez said. “That is why volunteering in the shelters was an unforgettable experience for me.” 

As an intern on Capitol Hill for U.S. Representative Gerry Connolly (D-VA), Fernandez says the trip will continue to shape her perspective for years to come.

“This experience has forever changed how I will approach drafting memos and understanding legislation related to immigration,” she said.

Beyond volunteering in shelters, students had the opportunity to explore historical and political landmarks, engage with governmental and nongovernmental representatives, and connect with faculty and students from institutions in Juárez. This well-rounded experience not only broadened their understanding of immigration policies and human security, but also fostered meaningful connections and lasting impressions.

“The trip encouraged openness, dialogue, and connection, and the scenic overlook of El Paso and Juárez served as a poignant reminder of the diverse narratives and shared humanity that transcend borders,” Barker said.

Such an experience inspired the students to continue their exploration of border narratives and realities, marking a fulfilling and educational conclusion to the successful trip.