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Immigration Pilgrimage gives Furman group perspective on difficult issues

A group from Furman poses in front of the mural “Monuments: Atlanta’s Immigrants.” Front row, from left: Andrea Parker ’26, Caroline Brawley ’24, muralist Yehimi Cambrón, Pratik Shrestha ’26, Dipak Malla ’26, Jovid Jumaev ’26. Back row, from left: Xavier Johnson ’24, Andres Ospina ‘24, Student Organizations Coordinator Addison Smith, Cothran Center Program Coordinator Rolyn Rollins, Assistant Professor of Spanish Santiago Quintero, Denisse Castro-Rivera ’25, Kerry Black ‘24, Tony Song ’26, Edith Olivera-Bautista ’23, Maria Balderas ’25.

Last updated October 21, 2022

By Furman News

Stewart Detention Center, a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) facility in west central Georgia, is not on many Fall Break destination lists. But for some Furman students visiting as part of the Immigration Pilgrimage Through Georgia in early October, it was an emotional and eye-opening visit.

“A couple of us got to experience that one-on-one with the detainees, actually speaking with them and listening to their stories,” said Edith Olivera-Bautista ’23. “Some of them hadn’t even committed a crime – they went through the asylum process, but they got denied because they have no proof, which is really absurd to me. How can you document that you’re being threatened by a cartel or gang?”

Working with the support organization El Refugio, the Furman group, hosted by the Cothran Center for Vocational Reflection and the Hispanic Outreach and Latinx Awareness (HOLA) student group, helped pack backpacks with clothing and other necessities for the detainees.

“They only deport them with whatever clothes they have on,” said Olivera-Bautista, a Spanish major minoring in Latin American and Latinx studies.

The senior, whose parents migrated to the U.S. from Mexico one year before she was born, helped organize the tour with Rolyn Rollins, the program coordinator for student initiatives at the Cothran Center. Tour highlights included the Plaza Fiesta indoor mall in Atlanta; a talk with Mexican-born artist Yehimi Cambrón about several of her murals, including “Monuments: Atlanta’s Immigrants”; and Jubilee Partners, a Christian community in Comer offering hospitality to refugees and other immigrants fleeing violence and persecution.

It was the second time the Cothran Center has planned a domestic travel program during Fall Break for students interested in learning about social justice issues, said Rollins. In 2021, a group focused on the history of the civil rights movement traveled through Alabama.

Of the 12 students on the tour, many, like Olivera-Bautista, had personal connections to immigration. Some, however, found themselves viewing the issues from an entirely new perspective.

“I know the textbook things about immigration, but I’m not someone who has experienced the human side of it,” said Caroline Brawley ’24, who is majoring in Chinese studies and politics and international affairs and minoring in women’s, gender and sexuality studies. “Being on this trip as the only white female student was a chance to step into other people’s shoes and see the very real human impact.”

Overall, the pilgrimage was “very emotional but very impactful,” said Olivera-Bautista. “We came away asking, ‘What’s next? What can we do to help with this major problem that’s going on?’”

Brawley, who wants to work in public policy and government after graduating, saw both challenges and opportunities.

“I’m interested in ways we can be more creative and collect data more efficiently to create human-centered policy that helps uplift people,” she said. “We need to bring some humanity back into the immigration system.”

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