Ten students from Georgetown University in Qatar (GU-Q) recently returned from a trip organized through the university’s Community Engagement Program (CEP), a comprehensive learning and immersion experience that sent participants to Washington, DC and El Paso, TX to study the complexities of labor and international migration through meetings with policymakers, community activists, immigrants, enforcement officials, and civil rights groups.

The group also partnered with the Annunciation House in El Paso, TX to live with immigrants and participate in the Border Awareness Experience. CEP Administrator, Uday Rosario, said:

Service learning is a cornerstone of a Georgetown education, so this year’s CEP trip focused on introducing our students to the global issue of international human migration – an issue that has a particularly strong impact on countries like Qatar and in the region. Both through a comprehensive academic curriculum on campus, and by meeting and interacting with a wide range of perspectives on migration and labor issues using the United States as a case study, we hope our students understand that the social, political, and economic issues surrounding international human migration are complex, and not black and white as is often perceived.’

Participating student Aleesha Suleman reflected on the impact of the trip, saying:

After almost an entire year of focused engagement with issues of international migration and migration in the context of Qatar, we set out to experience first-hand the concept of American immigration. We got to experience the issue from multiple perspectives: legislative, community-based, and more importantly, personal narrative. Through this experience, we have gained a more holistic understanding of migration and have the tools, information and drive to make a difference, whichever part of the world we come from.’

GU-Q Senior Student Development Officer and trip leader, Alex Silberman, said:

Prior to the trip, GU-Q students were required to attend a semester-long non-credit course covering the history, legality, economics and socio-political aspects of global migration. “With a thorough understanding of the issues, our students journeyed to the very places where transitioning migrants live and seek support, where migration law is debated and defined, and where migration law is enforced. This exposes them to specific case studies and best practices where countries have institutionalized systems for promoting, yet protecting, migration.’

The programme began in Washington, D.C., where the student group, accompanied by GU-Q faculty and staff, met with various stakeholders in the Washington, DC area, such as Arturo Griffiths, a local community organizer and the founder of Trabajadores Unidos de Washington DC, to learn about wage theft and labor abuse issues for undocumented day laborers in the area. Following the meeting, students engaged with individual day laborers to hear their journeys and learn about their lives as undocumented immigrants in America.

Following the Washington, DC portion of the programme, the group traveled to El Paso, TX to participate in the Border Awareness Experience program run by the Annunciation House, a non-profit organisation that offers free housing to undocumented migrants in the area. The GU-Q students and staff facilitators lived in a group home with migrants, sharing meals and stories over the course of the week.

They also visited the Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) Museum and received a briefing from two CBP agents. This meeting was a powerful opportunity for students to receive first-hand account of the effectiveness of US border policies and to ask critical questions to the agency responsible for enforcing those practices. A stop at a federal courthouse in El Paso gave the students an opportunity to witness immigration-related hearings including sentencing and pleas, and a chance to speak with US Magistrate Judge Miguel A. Torres about immigration law.

The CEP trip included participation from the university’s main campus in Washington DC, and was organised in partnership with the Center for Social Justice (CSJ), an advocacy organisation that conducts research, education and advocacy to promote peace and human security. Following the completion of the trip, students from the Doha campus plan to build and deliver a ‘Know Your Rights’ campaign to educate foreign workers about Qatar’s labour protection laws.