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Would You Walk in Their Shoes?

By Nick Pulliam
On November 16, 2018


Last week the Alumni Commons was covered in children’s shoes. Each pair represented a child who was separated from their family at the Mexico-United States border.

These shoes were part of an exhibit titled “Would You Walk in Their Shoes?” Throughout the exhibit were small signposts with real stories shared by parents who had their children taken from them at the border. 

One story involved a father who illegally entered the U.S. with his 4-month-old. Immediately upon entry, ICE agents took the father into custody and placed the child in the hands of the Office of Refugee Resettlement. The man was then deported without his child. 

Another story recounts the experience of a mother from Honduras who crossed the border. She told an attorney in June that her daughter was taken from her while she was breastfeeding. The mother explained that she asked the agents to at least let her finish feeding her child, only for them to rip the child away.

These are just two of the stories that were on display, but there are hundreds more just like them. In the last few months, the number of stories like these coming from the border have increased exponentially, as a result of changes to immigration and customs policies by the Trump administration.

Mrs. Eva Castillo and Professor Whitney Howarth explained this change in policy enforcement at Boyd on Wednesday night. Their presentation was titled, “Human Rights On Our Borders.”

Castillo is originally from Venezuela; she moved to the U.S. for college in 1975. She has spent over 30 years working with a variety of organizations that help immigrants in the United States. In 2007 she joined the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition (MIRA,) a group that helps new immigrants integrate into the U.S. She is also the Director of the NH Alliance for Immigrants and Refugees.


During the presentation, Howarth went into detail on how handling illegal border crossings has changed between the Trump and Obama administrations. She explained that in the past, only 10% of the people illegally crossing the border were criminally prosecuted. Instead, most illegal entries were seen as a civil matter instead of a criminal concern. And since it wasn’t a criminal matter, there was no reason to separate families; they were simply detained and deported together. But when Trump’s administration introduced a “zero-tolerance policy” in April, courts were ordered to criminally prosecute anyone caught trying to cross the border illegally. And anyone who is being criminally prosecuted is automatically separated from their children.

The presentation explained how most parents trying to enter the country didn’t know they risked having their children taken from them. 

This new policy by the Trump Administration was developed as a deterrent measure. Jeff Sessions, the former Attorney General, declared that if parents didn’t want to be separated from their children, they shouldn’t try to smuggle them over the border. 

The entire policy was met with massive national and even international backlash for a variety of reasons. The most significant in the eyes of many were the human rights violations. Border agencies simply didn’t have room for the influx of detainees. They had some facilities already set up, mostly for unaccompanied minors who were young men that they arrested, but it wasn’t enough for all the new people.

Howarth explained how, as of August, around 700 children still hadn’t been reunited. The whole process of reuniting children with their parents has been a struggle, because tracking down parents who had been deported proved to be difficult. 

After completing her part of the presentation, Castillo took over and spoke about immigration and the different kinds there are. She went into detail on how challenging it is to immigrate to the U.S. and how it’s going to become even more difficult in the near future.

The presentation was attended by a good number of students who shared their own opinions on what was happening at the border. 


The exhibit and presentation by Eva Castillo were both part of International Education Week (IEW). The week-long event exists to raise awareness of global issues. This year, the event was a Clusters Initiative project that received support from the new Provost Robin Dorff. It was organized by the Global Initiatives Group (GIG), which is a collection of faculty, students, and staff. 

The GIG set out to reinvigorate IEW by tying the events to 15 global themed classes. It was a challenge because in the past, the Global Engagement Office played a large role in organizing events. Unfortunately, that office has seen major staffing cuts, so their ability to organize IEW has diminished. That didn’t stop GIG from putting out a great series of events this year. 

This year’s event kicked off on Monday, November 5, at a ceremony presented by President Birx and Provost Dorff. The schedule of events included African drumming, a flag parade, and a screening of the film Behemoth, which focuses on China’s coal industry. 

“We were really happy with the turnout, especially for the presentation by Eva Castillo,” said Professor Howarth. She continued by saying, “I think overall we would probably like to see students at more events. I know some of that is simply getting the word out early enough. We were so happy the president and the provost spoke at the opening ceremony and gave their support for and encouragement to us to continue doing this global work on campus.” Howarth was also impressed with the student research posters that were displayed throughout the week. 

International Education Week is set to return to PSU next year. Howarth expressed her hopes that there would be more community involvement from students and downtown businesses next year. 

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