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Alondra Carmona '21 helps a newly arrived immigrant prepare for her upcoming interview with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

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Students Work with Asylum Seekers in Texas (video)

February 20, 2019

MIDDLEBURY, Vt. – Twelve undergraduates inserted themselves directly into the challenges faced by Central American asylum seekers who recently crossed into the United States from Mexico, during a Middlebury Alternative Break (MAlt) service trip to Texas in early February.

As soon as the Middlebury students arrived in San Antonio, they launched into the two-fold work of a) helping family members prepare for their “credible fear interviews” with U.S. officials, and b) orienting the families once they had been released from the detention center to a Greyhound bus station.

“We were often the first friendly faces these families saw in the United States,” one student remarked, “and we let them know they are welcome here.”

Like all MAlt trips – and there were six service trips this year – months of planning and fund raising go into the student-led and student-designed off-campus experiences.

“MAlt trips help our students see themselves as full participants in local and global communities,” explained J. Ashley Laux ’06, the program director of the Center for Community Engagement, which coordinates the trips.  “Participants have a role in enacting positive social change, not just while they are on their trips but also as they explore scholarly pursuits at Middlebury and in life beyond college.

“The MAlt Texas trip provided students with a human-centered experience that will catalyze deeper engagement in U.S./Mexico border issues. The participants will continue to engage the topic through their curricular connections, activism, and/or continued volunteer service. MAlt helps students connect their volunteer service with the root causes and systems that affect the communities they serve,” said Laux.  

In San Antonio, the students worked directly with the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services, or RAICES, a nonprofit agency founded in 1986 that promotes justice by providing free and low-cost legal services to underserved immigrant children, families, and refugees.

After each 10- to 12-hour day working in the field with asylum seekers, the undergrads returned to their temporary residence (an Airbnb in downtown San Antonio) for dinner, informal conversation, reflection time, and sleep.

MAlt is very much a “collaborative learning partnership” between community members, community organizations, and Middlebury students, said Laux. “MAlt combines education, direct volunteer service, and group discussions to help participants understand their individual experiences in a broader context, as well as make a commitment together to future action.”

The MAlt Texas group raised funds for their trip through a variety of means, including the microphilanthropy site MiddSTART, which was used by all of the 2019 MAlt trip participants. The other trips were: Roots of Resilience in Puerto Rico; Education Beyond the Classroom in Jamaica; Storytelling through Art Therapy in Philadelphia; Community, Creativity, and Conservation in Port St. Lucie, Florida; and Exploring Haitian-Dominican Race Relations in Puerta Plata, D.R.


I am delighted to see that Middlebury students have been working with the immigrants in San Antonio. I, too, have been volunteering in the San Antonio Airport helping the Central American immigrants who are released from detention to navigate the airport. They are so relieved to find friendly faces to assist them - getting their boarding passes, taking them through security and helping them find their gates. It is also wonderful to give the children little toys and to see the joy in their faces. Betty Austin Henderson, 1968

by Betty Austin He... (not verified)

In southern Vermont the Community Asylum Seekers Project (CASP) is finding host homes and providing support for asylum seekers who have no family in the USA. I’ve been volunteering with CASP - taking them to the grocery store, helping them learn how to use the local bus system, accompanying them to doctors appointments. CASP provides asylum guests with a monthly stipend and helps with other needs, such as paying the $3500 bond that is required to remove the ankle bracelet put on at the detention facility (prison). Nonstop fundraising, you can imagine! If you are moved by the work of
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these Middlebury students and would like to support similar work on a local level, please check out Thank you!
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by Francie Marbury (not verified)

I am so happy to see Middlebury students getting involved with people in need. Thank you for posting this information. I only question is: Is Puerto Plata the best place for you to see Dominican and Haitian interaction? Wouldn't it be better to go to the border of these two countries? Puerto Plata is a touristy place - great for spring breakers who want to stay at the beach all day! The San Antonio folks really impressed me. I am so happy to see Mexican American students from Middlebury! Mil gracias:)

by Margarita Castaneda (not verified)

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