Conference to address border issues

Jody Serrano

Editor’s Note: Some portions of interviews were translated from Spanish.

In the spring, international relations junior Leslie Wise participated in a class unlike any offered at UT. Once a week at Casa Marianella, a center for Latin Americans in the immigration process, she helped teach English to immigrants.

Wise said the experience stood out to her because she saw how important it was for the immigrants at Casa Marianella to learn English. They learned it to survive, Wise said.

“I never had to tell anyone to be quiet,” Wise said. “I saw people who came and were working really hard to learn English and establish themselves here.”

Wise is one of 12 UT students participating in the first annual “Jornadas Fronterizas” conference, sponsored by the IC2 Institute, an organization that promotes innovative and creative thinking on campus. The conference runs Nov. 11-12, bringing together 80 students from Mexico and the U.S. to discuss border issues such as immigration, security, job creation, education and create solutions to these problems.

Marco Munoz, IC2 Institute assistant director, said the institute organized the conference in an attempt to solve issues facing people from the U.S.–Mexico border.

“University students from both the U.S. and Mexico are an incredible resource for coming up with these solutions,” Munoz said. “It’s important to empower them to improve life in our region by providing a forum for their voices and opinions.”

Munoz said 12 students from the conference will be selected to attend a national conference in Washington and present their solutions to lawmakers.

Wise said living in Austin gave her a different perspective on U.S. and Latin American relations and inspired her to focus on Latin American studies for her degree.

Wise said all the media coverage on border issues inspired her to apply for the conference because she kept hearing news about the border but felt she could not do anything about it.

“We attract [immigrants], and then we vilify them,” Wise said. “In Alabama, they have a really strict immigration law, and they can’t find anyone to fill the jobs there.”

Jose Luis Perez, owner of the Burrito Factory restaurant in the Dobie Center, said on a recent trip to Mexico he saw a large increase of soldiers on the border and a calm scene. Perez came to the U.S. as an illegal immigrant more than 20 years ago and is now a U.S. citizen.

Despite the soldiers, Perez said he still did not feel safe traveling across the border. He said there are many stories of the Zetas, one of Mexico’s largest drug cartels, masquerading as soldiers and then threatening people for money on the bridge.

“For Mexico to change, you have to get rid of all the corrupt politicians,” Perez said. “I don’t think the U.S. can do anything more to help Mexico.”

Wise said she was very excited to talk to students from Mexico because immigration issues are shared problems between the two countries.

“It’s hard to start the conversations about these issues in everyday life,” Wise said. “I hope people show me solutions I never thought of, and I hope I can do the same for them.”

Published on Thursday, November 10, 2011 as: Class teaches English to immigrants