Beyond the Wall: Reframing the Issue


“Growing up in a border town gave me direct experience in understanding the very many different issues that exist along the border,” says Maria Silva ‘12 (BA). Born in the U.S. and raised in Nogales, Mexico, Silva and her siblings commuted daily into Nogales, Arizona to attend school.

“It was just life,” she says with a shrug. “It was normal. It was strange to me to find out later that people didn’t country hop the way we did.” Life seemed simpler then, even after 9/11 brought longer wait times, stricter U.S. entry requirements and much tighter security.

“Today, the way the border is militarized looks completely different,” Silva says. “The fencing, the number of border patrol agents, the drones and the helicopters. For kids who are crossing on a daily basis, I think it’s changed significantly.”

It’s a difference she experiences firsthand, crossing from San Diego into Tijuana weekly as part of her job at USD. Since arriving as a first-year in 2009, Silva has devoted much of her time to working with migrants and asylum seekers. Today, she’s a director for the Mulvaney Center for Community Awareness and Social Action, overseeing an impressive operation that links the university with nonprofit groups on both sides of the border.

“We are a binational anchor,” Silva says. “It’s an opportunity and a responsibility for us, being so close to the border, to reach out to partners in Tijuana the same way as we do here.”

Dealing with the ongoing political crisis and its human collateral can be draining, as it was when Silva picked up a young Guatemalan girl and her dad from San Diego’s emergency immigrant shelter. The two were released after a difficult, month-long journey north and two nights in detention. Silva drove them to the airport to be reunited with family on the East Coast.

“The girl was just ecstatic. She kept looking out the window and pointing out everything she saw,” Silva remembers. “We got to the airport and I asked for an escort pass to take them to the gate. I’ve done this many times before, but this time, the airline agents wouldn’t give me one.” Silva explained to the duo that they’d have to get through security and find their gate themselves.

“The girl kept looking back at me. You could tell that when they see someone in uniform, that’s immediately triggering. She started shaking as she got closer to the TSA agent. That’s just one manifestation of the political climate we live in.”

But there are encouraging signs, and they give Silva a measure of hope. “I’ve had great experiences as well with TSA agents and airline folks. And every day working with organizations that are tirelessly serving these communities, I’m reminded that we’re coming together to support each other,” she says.

”I think this political time will be seen as a critical shift. We have to reframe the way we think. The problem is not immigration. The problem is us and the system we’ve created. We have the power to change it.— Karen Gross

Read our complete border story package, Beyond the Wall

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