A worn backpack left behind by a migrant in the desert and found by students during their walk with Shura of Green Valley Samaritans.

A worn backpack left behind by a migrant in the desert and found by students during their walk with Shura of Green Valley Samaritans.

Today more than ever, it is fundamental for a student focused on a career with a purpose to get a comprehensive understanding of immigration issues. With the ongoing refugee crisis, it is mandatory for the social workers of tomorrow to learn about border issues and social justice.

St. Scholastica's social work cohort embraced the mission to study first-hand the reality of migration with a field trip to the Arizona border. The course was designed by undergraduate program director Marcia Runnberg-Valadez, whose experience with border issues dates back to a 1997 volunteer stint in Juarez, Mexico. The experience gave her a new perspective, which she hopes to instill in her students.

"In my year in Mexico, I met so many incredible individuals who were seeking a better life for themselves and their children, as well as those whose lives were dedicated to serving them," said Runnberg-Valadez. "Today, with all we are hearing in the news about immigration and refugees, it is essential that students get a well-rounded view of these issues."

The students' trip was designed to introduce them to a variety of social work and human service professionals working within the wide spectrum of immigration issues.

The students began their trip in Phoenix, where they met with Nancy Dang and Lindsey DePew, case managers who had experience working with minor youth in foster care. In Tucson, the group met with Teresa Small, program manager at the Tucson Field Office of U.S. Custom and Border Protection.

Before proceeding for Nogales, Arizona, students and faculty met with Reina Araibi of the Colibri Center for Human Rights and Josefina Ahumada, associate administrative professional at the School of Social Work of Arizona State University.

The students' conversations with these community leaders helped illustrated the role of social workers and the challenges they face.

"One thing that I learned each day is the passion and humanity some people have for human rights. There are people that not only are fighting for human rights, but have so much love for humanity," said junior social work student Carmen Albarran.

"I learned that immigration is a business," said senior Juan Pedroza Reyes. "I learned that it is an expensive trip to make (to the U.S.), and an expensive dream to make come true, a dream that may result in some of the most unimaginable suffering. I learned about the resiliency of those searching for a better life."

"It was such an honor to travel to the Mexican/U.S. border with this group of students," said assistant professor Aileen P. Moore, migration course instructor. "We had a diverse group of learners, from a wide range of ages and cultural backgrounds. We had students who knew very little of the issues of migration on the border, to those who have a very personal connection through the experience of family and friends."

As a final project at the end of the school year, the students recently put together a detailed presentation sharing everything that they'd learned on their journey.