First-ever Service Immersion Trip to El Paso an Emotional One

Thursday, April 4, 2019
Students during a service immersion trip to El Paso

Each spring, Rockhurst University sends students and faculty and staff companions on domestic and international locations to live out the Jesuit value of “serving for and with others.”

This spring break in mid-March was no different — students helped with everything from construction projects to assisting coffee farmers to lending a hand at medical clinics and schools in the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Belize, and Guatemala.

This March, there was a new location available for students — El Paso, Texas, on the border with Mexico. There, students served with Encuentro Project’s efforts to assist those seeking asylum in the United States who have been detained and released by Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials.

For sophomore Paola Rodriguez, visiting the U.S.-Mexico border was more than an opportunity to learn — it was a chance to reflect on her own history. Rodriguez is an immigrant herself, having come from Mexico with her family 16 years ago and unable to go back since. It made the visit to the border an emotional one for her.

“Being an immigrant, I am very up to date on all laws and news regarding this topic,” she said. “I knew that having such an intimate connection would make this trip more personal and emotionally overwhelming, but overall it was a transformative experience.”

In addition to service, students heard about the journey that so many families and individuals take from Central America to the United States and, according to freshman Justine Schultz, hiked up Mount Cristo Rey, praying the Stations of the Cross and pausing for a panoramic look at the border itself.

Schulz and Rodriguez both said assisting at Loretto-Nazareth Hospitality Center for Migrants with migrants seeking asylum recently released from ICE detention was one of the most memorable experiences of the trip. Those at the shelter have already asked for asylum, undergone background checks, have a sponsor and have stood in front of a judge to make their case. At the shelter, students helped with everything from serving food to providing clothing delivering needed medication, and were able to learn firsthand about the experience of migrants.

“Being able to connect with people and hear the struggles they went through really motivated us through the eight-hour-long shift at the shelter to do as much as we could in the short amount of time we spent there,” Schulz said.

For Rodriguez, spending time with those who have sacrificed seeking a better life was a reminder of the journey her own parents made years earlier.

“It helped strengthen me to voice my opinion for the people who are good, productive members of society and suffer through a struggling, broken immigration system that fails us time and time again,” she said.