Immigration Stories – Alternative Spring Break Arizona – by Megan Gonrowski. The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy, at and

Immigration Stories – Alternative Spring Break Arizona – by Megan Gonrowski. The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy, at and

(Our group with Bob, a Tucson Samaritan, on a hike in the desert and the border wall, March 2018)

Over spring break, I went with CSS Campus Ministry on an Alternative Break Experience to Arizona. The trip was originally supposed to include a day trip across the Mexican border, but the travel advisory for along the border of Mexico increased so we were not allowed to cross. The trip was not a service-based trip, unlike many of the other ABE trips that Campus Ministry organizes, instead it was a learning-based trip because there is much to learn about immigration and culture down on the border. Going into the trip I was most excited to experience a different culture than my own Midwestern culture and to use my Spanish because I am working on a Spanish major. While we were in Arizona we stayed with a four Sisters from the School Sisters of Notre Dame order. Everyone we met was super informed and hospitable and overall our time in Arizona was amazing.

We spent two days in Tucson, Arizona with a couple of Tucson Samaritans. This group is very active in the Pima county area and they often leave water in the desert and mountains for migrants. We also got to participate in leaving water for migrants, but we had to spend quite a few hours of hiking to get to more remote areas of the mountains. However, the desert hike was not a long distance, but every plant was prickly, so it took a few hours of cautious walking just to go a couple of miles. I was not expecting the mountainous terrain of the Southwest, but the desert did live up to my painful and dry expectations. The days we spent hiking were the days we put ourselves in a migrant’s shoes and walked the same paths that many people may have taken for a variety of reasons.

(Water with messages of hope in Spanish left in the mountains and border patrol officer)

For the majority of the week we stayed in Douglas, Arizona at the Sisters house. Here we met many people from the community such as faith leaders and border patrol officers. On the U.S. side the Douglas community focuses a lot on remembrance for the 306 migrants that have been found dead in the small town of Douglas. Overall, in Pima county Arizona there has been roughly 4,000 bodies found of presumed or known migrants, but many people think the death total is more around 7,000. While we were in Arizona, we realized that migration deaths increased in correlation with the most recent building of the border wall. We spoke with people who live on both sides of the border and they talked a lot about the current wall placement, but also about the trade deal NAFTA and how that has affected the flow of migration.

First off, the current larger bars of the border wall were slowly put in place to keep the flow of migration out of certain cities. Starting with San Diego and then El Paso. The border walls statistically did keep migrants from crossing over those cities borders, but the statistics did not consider that migrants were simply entering at different and less patrolled, more rural locations. Secondly, with the implementation of NAFTA the agricultural system in Mexico crashed because it became cheaper for Mexico to import U.S. produce rather than to try and compete with the United States’ agriculture. Long story short, this gave Mexico economic problems which caused a lot of people, specifically young men, to migrate to the U.S. to look for the economic stability that NAFTA had taken away from them.

(U.S. border wall view vs Mexico view)

The strengthening of security in certain areas has had unforeseen effects on migration and added danger to the frequented ways of passage. In other words, there have been so many recent deaths in Arizona because they have the dryness of the west desert and the harsh terrain of the mountain ranges. When the current border walls were built these dangerous geographically areas were left less patrolled because they were seen as “natural” or lethal deterrents to migration and the U.S. government thought migrants would know better than to try and cross in those areas. However, this is not the case and in the last 20 or so years they have seen an increase in deaths because of dangerous migration paths.

Overall, it was an eye-opening experience because in the North we do not always learn about the border history between the U.S. and Mexico or know the different mix of cultures and life that has been formed in the Southwest. My biggest take away would be that immigration policy is the most important reform that needs to be made to help make legal immigration easier for people who want to migrate. Migration is a normal human occurrence that has been happening since the beginning of time. Today, we have made something so natural a criminalized offence without trying to understand what is pushing or pulling a migrant to want a new life and be desperate enough to risk death. I believe that making immigration to this country easier and less financially taxing would decrease the flow of undocumented immigration and in turn help stop the deaths that occur because of the harsh terrain and lack of water in the Southwest.

Megan serves as an assistant editor for The North Star Reports.

Please contact Professor Liang if you wish to write for The North Star Reports — HLIANG (at)

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Filed under Megan Gonrowski, North Star Student Editors, Professor Hong-Ming Liang

32 responses to “Immigration Stories – Alternative Spring Break Arizona – by Megan Gonrowski. The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy, at and

    • Ashley Hamilton

      Thank you for sharing your story of your experience down in Arizona. It sounds like it was a very meaningful and valuable experience that you had. In my world history class, we are learning more about early civilization (3500 – 2000 BCE) and how the first cities came about and how migration was important to survive. When thinking about the immigration stories that you talked about in your article, many things overlapped in regards to the way migration works today and the way it worked many years ago. In our text, “Worlds Together Worlds Apart”, pastoral nomadic people saw an opportunity to provide food and tools as a means of trade with those living in the city. According to Tignor et. al, they traded meat and animal products for grains, pottery, and tools produced in the agrarian communities (2018, p.45). The immigrants trying to flee Mexico for the United States also see an opportunity to make more money to survive being here. These immigrants are going to any extreme in order for a chance to have a different life. It is heartbreaking to hear about what lengths people will go to in order to flee Mexico to start a new life. So many people and families are dying and suffering and something needs to be done in order to help those who have good intentions of crossing the border and starting a new life.

    • Felicity Byrd

      Hello Megan!
      I just want to start off by saying I really enjoyed reading your article and I think you highlighted some very important points. I completely agree that the immigration policy needs to be reformed and made easier for people to migrate. For a country that claims to be so great, the land of the free and opportunities, they sure make it pretty hard for anyone to be able to ‘live the American dream’ if they were not born in America. People should not be forced to take dangerous routes into the country because they fear or are unable to cross the border legally. No one deserves to die when they’re only try to live a better life. I also found your statement about migration being around since the beginning of time to be very accurate as well. In Robert Tignor’s textbook “Worlds Together, Worlds Apart”, there are several examples of migration including migration of the Vedic Peoples. The Vedic Peoples migrated in South Asia, and as they migrated they picked up different skills, cultural traditions and rituals, “they learned to plant rice in the marshy lands..”, and more (Tignor, p. 100). The Vedic People migrated in search of resources and they thrived in their new land. They integrated their culture and techniques with the native culture and technique, and from that they only grew. Likewise in today’s society, especially in the United States where we claim to be a land of opportunity, people should be allowed the opportunity to live here, grow, and thrive, the same way the Vedic People thrived in their new home. Migrants should be provided a safe, legal, and simpler way to enter the country and given an opportunity to enter the U.S.
      Thank you for sharing your story and your thoughts, it truly gave me a lot to think about!

  1. Cassandra Mahlberg

    Hi Megan! I know you wrote this article close to a year ago now, but I think it is just as relevant now as then. Being able to walk in the shoes of the migrants is an invaluable experience and those who haven’t done this can never truly begin to grasp the feelings these vulnerable people are dealing with for the hope of their futures. The act of leaving water and pray messages is nearly revolutionary in this political climate– the more people willing to do things like this, the less control the government really has. Movement of people should not be considered illegal in the first place considering the fact that borders are arbitrary man-made constructs, but since it is, it is extra necessary for people to be supportive of those willing to make this dangerous trek. I think it is interesting that you want to approach migration by making the legal processes easier, it sounds like a good way to look at things. I think one of our main problems is the misunderstanding and lack of education surrounding immigration policies in the US. Contrary to popular belief, the “illegal immigrants” showing up at our border in the “caravans” are NOT illegal. They are asylum seekers. While it is abstract to think of the southern border as a resident of northern Minnesota, I understand that people are not national security risks just because they are approaching the border and the rhetoric being used is negatively impacting the situation and the people involved.

  2. Samantha Willert

    Hello Megan,

    I hope you enjoyed your trip to Arizona! The weather there must be extremely better than the weather here around this time. The facts you were mentioning about the border and the number of deaths were very interesting. I had no idea! I also believe that there can be a better way to solve the problem, and I wish that we were able to do something. Thank you for sharing your story.

  3. Phillip Truax

    Dear Megan,
    Thank you for your story and input on immigration. I have done some extensive hiking in deserts but in Utah and I think its funny how any type of plant has thorns. To touch back on the immigration point i think its always important to realize no matter what the situation is there is always two sides of the story. Also it is so pertinent to think abstractly when dealing with economy’s like how you mentioned with mexico and NAFTA.

  4. DyAnna Grondahl


    Thank you for sharing your insights from this trip – they are incredibly meaningful. I am disturbed by the statistic you shared in regard to the 4,000-7,000 people who have died in Pima County, AZ, and the information you offered about the environmental conditions of migration terrain. Pairing these pieces of information, I think it necessary to recognize the issues at the border as a public health crisis, not a migration crisis as some may argue. Moving from home to make a better life in a new home should not require a brush with death like this.

    Thank you,

  5. Madina

    Hello Megan!

    Thank you for sharing your ABE trip experience with us! It indeed is very sad that conditions have become so harsh for something that as you said “is so natural, a criminalized offence”. Conditions in the world today more than ever are forcing people away from their homes but unfortunately the political climate is not helping this situation. It is really sad to hear that this has resulted in several deaths in the Arizona region and probably elsewhere as well. I think the most crucial thing to do at this point is to educate. The more people are aware of problems, the more solutions can be implemented.

  6. Tamer Mische-Richter

    The point that you make that human migration is a natural occurrence really struck a cord with me. Without migration the United States would not be what it is today. There are limits to physical space in a country, however I think that the density of the US is not near its maximum. I am not advocating for full fledged high density living, but saying that we are able to physically handle more people. The infrastructure that is in place currently however is where we are coming short for handling an increase of migrants in the US. Whether we want to welcome more people or deter them is the true political issue.

  7. Elijah Ortega

    Hello Megan,
    What a great experience you got to have down on the border. The necessity to migrate in many peoples minds outweighs the dangers in many peoples minds. Im glad to see that the community down there mourns the loss of migrants and looks to better their dangerous conditions of which they are subjected to.
    Thank you for the read.

  8. Aleah Rubio

    Hello Megan,
    I really enjoyed reading your article! When my parents were still married, we would drive from St.Paul, Minnesota to Quebratantadero, Mexico.We would drive on 35 all the way to Texas to cross the border. The drive was about 4 days with stops and 2.5 days without stops besides for gas and using the bathroom. I remember crossing the border and my experiences were always different. One time, we crossed within 10 min. Another time, we were stopped for about 2 hours since my father was being questioned due to his citizenship. I am very happy I had the opportunity to drive to Mexico since now it can be a very dangerous drive. Thank you for sharing!


  9. Katelyn Fischer

    Hey Megan!!!
    I am so glad you enjoyed your trip to Arizona. It must have been an absolutely amazing experience. I think it is great that you got to experience part of what migrants go through for long periods of time. And it is fantastic that you were able to leave supplies for anyone that might need them.

  10. Marissa Mikrot

    Hi Megan,
    This ABE trip in particular I have had an interest in going on so I think it’s great that you shared your experiences there. I love that messages of hope are placed on gallons of water throughout the desert. However I hate that videos have surfaced of patrol officers walking around slicing the jugs. I think it would be interesting to hear from a patrol officer in such a town as this where they’re aware of the many deaths and are remorseful about it.

  11. Sarah Bowman

    I chose your article because I was drawn to the topic highlighted in your title since immigration is such a large and controversial topic in today’s society. It was cool to hear about your experience hiking and placing water for migrants, especially since it was for a cause. I was taken by surprise at the amount of deaths due to migration that are estimated. I had little knowledge about this particular topic but it is clear to see that the additions to the wall have caused an increase in these death tolls. It is saddening to read about these unkown migrants who are being found dead. I personally really enjoyed how you concluded this article of migration bringing it back to our roots as human beings. As explained in “Worlds Together Worlds Apart” by Tignor et al., we once all migrated freely across the continent and land bridge that allowed the original inhabitants to find what is currently America (2018). Our species migrated to find hospitable environments and establish lives where there were sources of food and water for survival. I do not think the reasons people migrate today are so different. People are still moving and traveling to establish a better life and it is saddening lives are being lost over such an idea. Your article was well written and very informative, I appreciate you sharing your experiences and opinions.

    Sarah Bowman

  12. Kasey Kalthoff

    Hi Megan,
    I was actually just in Arizona last week for Spring Break. I know how cruel that desert sun is and I cannot imagine using such a difficult terrain as an escape to “freedom” as the immigrants do. Yes, immigrating to America should be doable but I think it is important to think about the countries that these immigrants come from. In this scenario, they are coming from Mexico. The more people that migrate to America, the less people their are to work for Mexico. I have talked to foreigners about what they think about people who leave their home country to work in America. They say it makes them sad because their own country invested in them and educated them only to have them pick up and leave. I just think it is important to think of the perspective of the home country in any kind of immigration situation.
    Loved your story and am happy that you had such an eye opening experience.
    Thanks for sharing,

    • Kasey Kalthoff

      I would also like to comment that we have seen this type of migration behavior before in history. Our textbook “Worlds Together Worlds Apart” explains how humans have constantly been migrating following food, better environments, and easier lifestyles. If you think about it, migration nowadays is no different (Tignor et al., W.W. Norton & Company Inc., 2018). Immigrants are looking for a better life and are looking for work to feed themselves and their families. Interesting how this idea of migration for survival is still occurring even today.

  13. Grace Macor

    Hi, Megan!
    It sounds like you had an eye-opening experience! Immigration is a hot topic in the United States right now. I feel sometimes politics can just be a battle between two parties, rather than a robust conversation. In “Worlds Together, Worlds Apart,” Tignor concludes that the basis of man kind likely originated in African (2018, p. 1-2). Clearly, the world population does not purely reside in Africa. Meaning, immigration must have occurred. This has occurred throughout a large portion of time, but we must recognize that immigration has influenced us all. Whether it was centuries ago or modern day, people immigrate to help adapt and better their lives.

  14. Matthew Breeze

    Thank you Megan this is great. I can imagine that coming from the land of 10,000 lakes and going to the Southwestern desert wold be quite a shock. I imagine that the people you met were inspiring and must have shared some amazing stories with you. I would love to pick your brain about it the next time I see you.

  15. Tanner Egelkraut

    Hello Megan,
    This sounds like such an amazing experience for you! I was really interested to hear about how much migration is really happening along the border wall. Like you said, we don’t hear much about the history of migration or the southern wall because we are so far north. I feel that migration is a very important part of our human history especially early human history. Homo sapiens were thought to have first originated in a small area in Africa around 200,000 years ago. Around about 100,000 years ago these early humans migrated out of Africa to other lands (Tignor et al., 2018 p. 3). Similar to how modern day migrants are moving for better opportunities, early humans likely did to follow the food, to find a more suitable environment, or to spread out from other tribes of people. Migration is something that even Europeans did to the Americas. I feel that we should cherish migration and not punish it. Glad you had a great experience!

  16. Sarah Symanietz

    What an eye opening and unique experience that you were able to experience through Campus Ministry. It is no secret that building a wall has been in the works of our politicians. It becomes even more crazy of an idea when one considers how our government shut down for disagreements on that issue just months ago. I think people would have different opinions, or at least would understand their stance more, if they were to experience a trip like you had. I would find it hard to see jugs of water with inspiration sayings on them to not affect people emotionally no matter their viewpoint on this issue. I respect that you stated that migration is a normal human occurrence, the US itself is a large melting pot of backgrounds and ethnicities and has been since it’s beginning. Further, migration has been viewed since late history with Egypt as another melting pot region. This combination of individuals occurred as early as the third millennium BCE. Thanks for sharing you experience.

  17. Kyle Star

    Thank you so much for sharing your experience with us. I really enjoyed reading your article. Immigration is such a controversial topic now a days, and people have a lot of different views on why the wall is being built. Personally i totally agree with you saying that it should probably be a lot easier for people to migrate over to the US. Being from Canada it is getting a lot more difficult for us to travel or migrate over the border as well. America has always been a place for people to begin a new life with more opportunities than most countries. “In the Americans, the largest population center was in the valley of Tehuacan. Here the domestication of corn created a subsistence base that enabled people to migrate from caves to a cluster of pit-house villages that supported a growing population”. (Tignor et al, 2018, p. 79). This is just proof that America has always been a place where things are growing to give people more opportunity.

    This was a pleasure to read,


  18. Hannah Holien

    Hi Megan-
    It sounds like you had an amazing and eye opening experience. Immigration is a hot topic in today’s news and a very controversial issue debated! I wish that more people could experience and see what you did on your trip so that they would have more empathy for their situation. I think that people forget that almost everyone that is a US citizen, immigrated at some point in their lineage. In “Worlds Together, Worlds Apart”, it discusses how we are all immigrants because we all came from a location in Africa. Also, it talks about how through migration, we have expanded knowledge and passed on skills (Tignor et al., 2018). I think this is something that is really important to remember. Thank you so much for sharing your story!
    – Hannah Holien

  19. Lexie DeWall


    Thank you for sharing our awesome experience with Campus Ministry! It sounds truly amazing. The pictures you attached of the wall, is the first time I have seen that, so thank you for those picture references. Migration and immigration is quite a hot topic currently, ever since the wall between the border of the U.S. and Mexico has been put in place. I agree that “Migration is a normal human occurrence that has been happening since the beginning of time” (Gonrowski, 2019). I also believe that having too many people migrating or trying to come to the U.S. at the same time can cause chaos. “After the first wave of newcomers, more migrants arrived by foot or in wagons pulled by draft animals. Some sought temporary work; others settled permanently” (Tignor et al., 2018, p. 84). I think this quote from Tignor et al. (2018) brings up a good point. It is important to know the reasoning behind someone’s leaving and new arrival before they are able to migrate to their final destination. Hopefully, in the near future, we will have developed a more efficient method for those that wish to come to the U.S. for purposeful reasons.

  20. Tessa Erickson-Thoemke

    Hey, Megan!

    I really enjoyed reading about your experience on this spring break trip. I think it’s so awesome that our school has opportunities like this one for our students to learn about other cultures. I did not realize how much the building of the border wall has affected migrants already in that more deaths have occurred. I think it’s safe to say that most migrants are seeking better opportunities for themselves or their families, so death as a result of that is horrible to imagine. You are right in saying that migration has been happening since the beginning of time, and it has occurred for a variety of reasons. For example, around 2000 BCE, early humans were forced to migrate because of drastic climate changes. They were “desperate for secure water sources and pastures” in areas that were dry and barren (Tignor, 2018, p. 84). I can imagine the land they were trying to get away from was similar to the desert you experienced. I agree that our country needs to take another look at how the immigration policies are being handled to make sure human lives are actually being considered. Great article.

  21. Justice Bauer


    I am glad that I came across your post about migration because I have studied migration a lot in the past few semesters here at CSS. I think that it is amazing that you got the opportunity to go with the Campus Ministry and walk in the immigrant’s shoes for a short time. I did not know that the samaritans in Tuscan, Arizona left water in the mountains and I thought that this was very interesting. This reminded me of the chapter that we just read in my history class. It talked about cultural differences and how this was affected by migration. I looked at the different patterns of migration due to the climate changes and people seeking new opportunity. In today’s society, we see a lot of migration for the same reasons. On another note, I appreciated the pictures that you posted and the border walls. I’m sure that it was a very eye-opening experience. Thank you for sharing your experiences!

  22. Megan,
    I really enjoyed reading about your learning experience in Arizona. What an eye opening opportunity! It amazes me that there are not more people educated on the boarded issues that are happening and still haven’t been resolved. I don’t know what the right answer will be to resolve it, but as you said migration is a natural thing. As I’ve learned from Tignor, in the history book worlds together, worlds apart, migration was a key thing early humans had to do in order to survive. I think we as a whole have forgotten how natural it is, and in some cases it is the only option some of these people have. Thanks again for sharing your experience.

  23. Averie Fredrickson-Seibert

    Your trip sounds like a very meaningful and eye-opening experience. I can only imagine what it felt like to put yourself in the footsteps of countless immigrants. Migration is central in what we have been studying in the book Worlds Together, Worlds Apart. It’s clear that migration led to the spread of ideas that have been the building blocks of what we know today. For example, western civilization is built on the idea of monotheism. In regard to this idea, Tignor writes “Gradually, however, there was a move to true monotheism: the acceptance of only one god to the exclusion of all others” (Tignor, 144). Without the spread of the idea of monotheism through migration, what would the western world look like today?

  24. Erin Diver

    Hello Megan,
    This was a really relevant and interesting article! It was a different approach to what we see on news media here in America for sure. Here we’re more concerned with ourselves and our own politics that we forget to look at the actual people America is abandoning. It’s really important to learn of the harsh journey migrants have to make to even make it to the border, and to learn of migrant deaths because of this. Like you said, migration is natural and it’s entirely insane to criminalize it; in Worlds Together, Worlds Apart by Tignor, it is immediately and continuously apparent how much a part of human nature travel is: “Waves of Vedic peoples migrated into this region around 600 BCE, clearing land, establishing new cities and trade routes, expanding rice cultivation, and experimenting with new political forms” (p. 169).

  25. Benjamin Burner

    This was a very interesting article to read. It sounds like you had a good time in Arizona and learned a lot about migration. It is sad that people want to leave their country so bad that they travel that far and through difficult terrain to make it to the United States. It is also very sad how many people do not make it. We need to find a solution to fix this and eliminate the deaths. I bet staying with the Sisters of Notre Dame was very fun! Your trip sounded like a fun time but also very eye opening on how bad this issue is. Hopefully our country’s come to a solution to stop these migrants from risking it all for a new opportunity. Thanks again I enjoyed learning about this issue and your experience.

  26. Gabrielle Trelstad


    Thank you for sharing your experience.
    It is heartbreaking to read what is happening on the border of the U.S. and Mexico, but it is so important to learn about. Thank you for sharing what you learned on your trip.
    It is reassuring to read that there are individuals on the border who are trying to help in whatever way that they can. Hopefully, sooner than later, the U.S. will figure out an immigration policy that is good for everyone.
    Thanks again for sharing your experience.


  27. Jenna Proulx

    Amazing story and what a cool experience! I really enjoy your opinions about an immigration reform that you added to the end of your post. I agree that it could perhaps be a good solution to make migrating into the United States easier in order to stop so many people from risking their lives. Personally, I find it interesting when people living in the United States are against immigration because of the ideas you provided about NAFTA effecting people in Mexico in negative ways and because of the fact that these people have never had an experience to learn what is actually going on like you have. If one were to walk the shoes of an immigrant, they would have a different opinion. Also, I like that you got to not only talk to people who have migrated from Mexico but also border patrol officers because then you get to understand both sides; I have heard that the life of border patrol officer can be rough. I would love to have this experience as well I am going to look into it now! thanks for sharing.

  28. Katie Peterson

    It’s awesome that CSS has Alternative Break Experiences for students, I actually didn’t know there was a difference in some that were more service based and some that were more learning based. I can imagine that visiting the US-Mexico border and hiking that paths that migrants take would be an eye opening experience. Certainly one I wish those who are so against immigration could experience. I was saddened when you wrote about how many migrants have been found dead, and how many the actual number is suspected to be. I wonder what that number is along the entire border and not just one county in Arizona. I would almost say I am surprised, but with the way US immigration policy has been going, I am not. I certainly agree that immigration policy is a very important issue that needs to be reformed as soon as possible. Thank you for sharing your experiences from this trip!

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