Students’ U.S.-Mexico border research to spark discussion

Students studying human rights issues affecting migrants will share their findings at a public symposium on Monday.

SMU Embrey Human Rights Program students Jordan Johansen, left, and Adriana Martinez stand at a water station for migrants in the Arizona desert during their Student Leadership Initiative trip in January 2011.

DALLAS (SMU) — Having seen firsthand the human rights issues affecting migrants on the U.S.-Mexico border in Arizona, eight members of SMU’s Student Leadership Initiative will share remarkable findings from their January study trip to the region at a Border Project Symposium on Monday, April 18.

Sponsored by SMU’s Embrey Human Rights Program, the event will begin with a 5:30 p.m. reception, followed by the 6 p.m. presentation in McCord Auditorium, 306 Dallas Hall, on the SMU campus. The event is free and open to the public.

The students spent two weeks in Tucson and Nogales, Ariz., in partnership with AMBER Alert and other law enforcement officials to help provide much-needed research. Their multidisciplinary work will address such issues as:

  • The ignored rights of Native American people in the region caught between the U.S. government and migrants from Mexico and South America
  • The role of drug trafficking organizations in U.S.-Mexican border relations
  • Debates among humanitarian and religious organizations about strategies for aiding migrants on the border

"I know now that it is very naive to see border issues in black and white," says SMU student Adriana Martinez, a junior majoring in political science, public policy, French and history and pursuing a minor in human rights. She and the other students toured "the line" with Border Patrol agents. They also talked to trackers who follow drug smugglers and people who run shelters for the migrants, of whom the trip’s leader, Patricia Davis, calls "some of the most vulnerable people on earth."

"None of us realized before we went how complex the issues are there — how intertwined, divisive, painful, even dangerous they can be for communities," says Davis, associate director of the Embrey Human Rights Program and director of pastoral leadership for the Perkins School of Theology. "There is no substitute for getting into the field and putting places, faces and stories into the equation when you are trying to analyze difficult issue. It was a great life experience for all of us."

The mission of the SMU Embrey Human Rights Program’s Student Leadership Initiative is to give exceptionally motivated students the opportunity to address human rights abuses by managing long-term service learning projects through academic study and activism. The program aims to equip future leaders with the skills to understand global and local human rights violations and to empower them to affect sustainable global change through human rights service.

For more details about the Embrey Human Rights Program, visit or call 214/768-3284.

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