Interning for a Los Angeles newspaper in the first six weeks of summer, I sought stories relevant to the communities I covered. Some of these articles inevitably related to immigration. Immigration is a complex issue, and I began my work at the newspaper with only a basic understanding of it. But reporting in Los Angeles and working in Latin America throughout the remainder of my summer gave me a stronger foundation for understanding the intricacies of the topic.
In Los Angeles, I spent time with immigrants from Central and South America who described the difficulty of crossing the southern border of Mexico, where all undocumented immigrants are considered criminals.
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At a church in south Los Angeles, I met several Guatemalan families who left their children behind to pursue what they thought would be a better life in the United States.
In Mexico City, I met with Manuel Nungaray, the head of North American relations for the Mexican Department of Foreign Affairs.
“Immigration is a bilateral theme that should be solved with agreements and cooperation rather than a wall,” he said, referring to the fence construction along the southern border of the United States.
Nungaray, whose three brothers immigrated to the United States, said this physical barrier will not stop immigrants from crossing the border despite its huge cost to taxpayers and to diplomacy.
Later, I drove to the California-Mexico border to see the completed project: two rows of steel fences and stadium lights extending across the border and into the ocean.
As an intern with the World Council of Credit Unions development program, I gained more insight into what leads people to cross these borders. I gathered print, photo and video testimonies of people in rural communities of Veracruz and Puebla.
Mexican credit unions use a model created by the World Council to bring small loans and savings education to isolated, low-income communities, creating possibilities for people who traditionally receive no financial support.
I met a 22-year-old named Claudia Apala Pacheco who lives in San Andres Tenejapan, a small village in the state of Veracruz, with her 6-year-old daughter.
“My husband left Mexico when I was three months pregnant,” she said. “He said he would come back, but now he says he will not.”
Pacheco is one of many women in this region left behind by their husbands. Every week, a van pulls into the nearby town of Tequila, luring workers with the promise of better opportunities across the border. Men from the area pay coyotes — human smugglers — in hopes of safe passage to Alabama, where better-paying jobs await them.
Many men leave their families behind, promising to come back, although they often choose not to take the return trip. Some dutifully send money over the border to support their families while others stop sending money altogether, leaving their families to fend for themselves.
Pacheco and her daughter gave me a tour of their future home, which is now under construction. As the child traced her small fingers across the stucco walls and danced barefoot on the dirt floor, Pacheco said that the existence of this home is only possible now that she has access to credit and financial services.
Filerion Garcia Ortiz, a coffee farmer in Texcochco, demonstrated how microfinance can encourage people to work through economic hardship rather than cross the border in pursuit of what they hear is a better life.
Ortiz explained that moving to the United States, where his brother has improved his financial situation, is tempting when he is having a rough season at his farm.
But he also said that loans and savings give him the security to make it through rough seasons so that he can remain in Mexico with his wife.
I returned to the United States with 18 hours of footage, hundreds of pictures and three notebooks filled with quotes and observations.
I still have much to learn about immigration, but I am at least equipped with a deep understanding of how complex it is, and convinced that true understanding can only come from seeing the other side of the story on the other side of the border.