Eileen Truax, a Mexican, Los Angeles-based journalist and author, spoke to Temple University students on Thursday about the border wall debate and bureaucratic barriers migrants face when entering the United States.
Truax has been published in La Opinión, VICE News and the Spanish edition of the New York Times, and is a board member of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists. On Thursday she was promoting her new book, “We Built The Wall: How the U.S. Keeps Out Asylum Seekers from Mexico, Central America and Beyond,” which was released in July 2018.
The book addresses President Donald Trump’s proposal to build a wall along the U.S. border, which since December has prompted a national debate and the longest federal government shutdown in U.S. history.
“We don’t need a wall made of brick,” Truax said, adding that there is an “already existing legal wall” that deters immigrants from coming to the U.S. Throughout her talk, Truax explained the visa system’s limitations and the historical mistreatment of immigrants by American society.
Truax focused on the difficulties migrants face coming to the U.S. as asylum-seekers or refugees. She claimed immigration standards are different depending on a migrant’s country of origin, and are often based on which countries the U.S. has an adverse relationship with.
“If you are coming from China and you say your government can’t protect you, when the U.S. gives you asylum, they’re making a political statement,” Truax said. “If you are coming from Venezuela, from Syria, from Iraq, you have a very high chance, compared to people from friendly countries.”
Andrea Salas, a political science and global studies major who attended the talk, immigrated from Mexico when she was four and became a citizen five years ago.
“I was very lucky because the place where I went was a college town, so people were very progressive,” Salas said. “My differences were celebrated. For a very long time, I didn’t see myself as American because I was always introduced as ‘the Mexican girl.’”
Salas worked at the Mexican Consulate, where she saw many parents rush to get birth certificates for their children after Trump was elected in 2016.
“It’s always been hard for any immigrants coming in,” she said. “They don’t report on it much now, but it’s still happening.”
Truax stressed that both Democrats and Republicans have not made structural improvements to the current immigration system. In recent years, bipartisan attempts to reform the U.S. immigration system have been shot down by both sides and some have expressed opposition to even legal immigration.
“Of course, right now, people are going to the extremes. But this is just a moment,” she said. “The system works the way it does, regardless of who is in office. We have a system that is created to stop people from coming.”
Ahmed Salman, a junior psychology major who attended Truax’s talk, said her parents immigrated to America 27 years ago from Iraq.
“[My] main takeaway was the need to step in an immigrant’s shoes,” Salman said. “It gave me an insight to respect everyone and anyone who ever walks your way, whether they speak English or not, or know the proper rules of American life.”
Truax concluded her discussion with a call to action.
“[People] still see this country as a beacon of light,” she said. “Do we want to be that kind of country in the global imaginary, or do we want to build the wall?”
“We have to think of migration not only in numbers or counties, we have to think of faces or names,” Truax added. “We have to start thinking beyond borders, beyond nationalities, beyond citizenship.”