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Refugees and Forced Displacement on the US-Mexico border

This project involves fieldwork with faith-based organizations and migrant refugees on the US-Mexico border. In 2018, Catherine Panter-Brick and Mark Eggerman led ethnographic fieldwork at two sites: in Tijuana, Baja California, Mexico, and El Paso, Texas, USA.  This involved participant observation, interviews, and archival research.  The research will help develop workshops for the dissemination of findings and engagement with policy-makers.

We spoke to the personnel of Catholic shelters, non-denominational rehabilitation shelters, orphanages, and transnational shelters such as Salvation Army, American Friends Service Committee, and YMCA, ranging from volunteer staff to directors, lawyers, psychologists, social workers, educators, priests, nuns, and pastors.  We spoke to a wide range of migrants, such as male youth, women traveling alone or with young children, trans women, male deportees, male migrants living within and outside of shelters, from Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, as well as refugees from Cameroon, Haiti, Turkey and Ukraine.  In addition, we engaged in participant observation of the border asylum process (at the cross-point) and everyday life at migrant shelters; we attended an advocacy rally, as well as masses and services in Catholic and Evangelical churches.

As part of the structured program called the Border Awareness Experience, run by the faith-based organization Annunciation House, Mark Eggerman engaged in presentations, discussions, and Questions & Answers sessions within a broader range of humanitarian actors and service providers.  He spoke with the directors of Catholic migrant shelters, witnessed deportation proceedings in federal court, visited an immigration detention facility and the National Border Patrol Museum, attended a presentation by Customs & Border Patrol officers, and participated in Q&A discussions with lawyers attached to faith-based advocacy organizations and legal services NGO.  In addition, he worked as volunteer staff in migrant shelters for a week, engaging in participant observation and helping process 25 migrant families from Central America into the US.  One of the shelter was receiving families who were being reunited after ICE detention, and their story was covered in the US news.

The project is part of the British Council’s Bridging Voices that brings together academics and policymakers to share expertise on topics related to religion and international affairs – the aim is to generate research to improve the understanding of religion on culture and policy. At Yale, Bridging Voices is led by Drs. Zareena Grewal, Dr. Unni Karunakara, Louisa Lombard, and Catherine Panter-Brick for undertaking comparative research in the Middle East (Lebanon), South East Asia (Thailand), Central Africa (Cameroon), and Central America (Mexico).

From 2013 to 2016, the Bridging Voices projects produced 33 transatlantic policy dialogues on religion and international affairs.  From 2017 to 2020, projects include the project focused specifically on religion and the promotion of social justice for refugees. See the description of Bridging Voice: