Border Reality Tours

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It may not be your idea of a summer getaway but groups are making their way here to the border for a tour of sorts known as the "border awareness experience."

Since I was on vacation during a recent tour, our border bureau photographer Hugo Perez kindly did the interviews with Notre Dame Divinity School students. Emily Sipos-Butler told him, "This is my first visit to the border region or even to the southwest of the United States," Butler who recently spent a week on the border added, "What really struck me coming into El Paso and crossing over into Juarez is how much they feel like one community."

The tour, which offers visitors the chance to immerse themselves in border life, is the work of Annunciation House, a non-profit organization in El Paso that runs several migrant shelters. On its website the Catholic organization says it "accompanies the migrant, homeless, and economically vulnerable peoples of the border region through hospitality, advocacy, and education." Part of that education is giving people who don't live on the border a first hand look, "just to gain a little bit more awareness of the
issues , "explained Anthony Paz, another Notre Dame graduate student.

He came to learn more about the" experience of the people whose lives are at stake when we talk about issues of immigration and security and drug trafficking. " Paz, and the other Divinity School students piled out of a van parked on a unpaved street in front of a small school

Inside the afterschool program coordinator Cristina Estrada greeted them and smiled politely as she answered questions. One visitor asked about the student's goals. "What are their hopes for the future? Estrada answered, "Some want to be fire fighters. Some say they want to be policemen or truck drivers but some say narcos and I say no. No. No. We don't talk about that."

The graduate students will have plenty to talk about when they return home including lure of lots of cash that leads some youth to choose the drug cartel lifestyle with deadly consequences.

For many it was an eye opening experience. Divinity student
Sipos-Butler said, "People on both sides of the border are suffering as a result of U.S. immigration policy, as a result of drug trafficking as a result of violence and the femicides and the militarization that I've seen here in Juarez. As she spoke a military helicopter hovered nearby.

Fellow student Paz noted," What struck me most was how easy it is to run into someone whose been affected by violence, by immigration policy by drug trafficking and how interrelated all these things are. Paz plans to share impressions with his youth ministry group back home. He'll talk about the hardships and the hope of border life.

"There's still joy in life here in spite of all of it. And that is really the kind of amazing and mysterious thing."