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Gabby Crooks, '23

Migrant Voices: Staffing an Immigration Detention Center Hotline

While on a field trip in ninth grade, my class stumbled across a naturalization ceremony happening in Harpers Ferry, a national historical park in West Virginia. We were invited to spend a few minutes witnessing a group of people officially become American citizens. 

As a child of immigrants, I had always been interested in the stories and experiences of migrants to the United States, but seeing this ceremony was a catalyzing moment for me. From then on, I was committed to not only knowing the stories of immigrants but uplifting their voices as well. 

In high school, this was largely reflected in my coursework and in a senior capstone, where a group of my peers and I wrote about the relationship between immigration and the environment. However, it was during my time at Stanford that I truly had the opportunity to explore the immigration experience at the intersection of academics and community engagement.

In my junior year, I took two joint Cardinal Courses: SPANLANG 108SL and HUMRTS 108 - Advanced Spanish Service-Learning: Migration, Asylum, and Human Rights at the Border. These classes give students the opportunity to learn about migration issues in the United States, both through the lens of policy and by focusing on the immigrant experience. We heard moving stories from current migrants, many of whom were further marginalized in their identities. 

Because these were Cardinal Courses, the curriculum combined classroom study with real-world service opportunities. Historically, the community engagement piece of this class had students travel to Dilley, TX to help asylum seekers at the border prepare for their interviews. However, due to our inability to travel because of the pandemic, we instead staffed a detention hotline in partnership with Freedom for Immigrants (FFI), a Bay Area-based organization that works to dismantle the system of immigrant detention. 

For two hours a week, I spoke with migrants detained in facilities across the country, helping them with basic needs that ranged from accessing books to reporting negligence and connecting them with their families. In the classroom, I learned about migration policies and the struggle of migrating to this country, whether while traveling, during the initial arrival, or even after settling down. It was different, though, to witness this firsthand in my conversations with migrants through the hotline. 

On average, I spoke to 6 or 7 migrants per shift. While not every call was heartbreaking in itself, it was devastating to realize the basic liberties that were robbed from these individuals, their families, and their communities. I was grateful, however, to be in a position to do this work. I was also grateful to be in this class, where I not only learned the realities of this system but had the opportunity to witness them firsthand and play some small part in FFI’s amazing advocacy work. The teaching team, Vivian Brates and Penelope Van Tuyl, led the class with grace, expertise, and care that translated into their preparations for students to engage with these communities.

Moved by their mission, I continued to pick up shifts for the FFI hotline over winter break before I prepared to study abroad in the winter. I am forever inspired  by this experience and carry it with me, along with the stories of the people I spoke to. 

So much of the experience of being an immigrant in this country involves losing some of your agency. The freedom of choice that I saw in the naturalization ceremony is not one afforded to everyone and is hard-earned for many. I urge anyone passionate about immigration (and with some grasp of the Spanish language) to take this course. It will change you for the better.

Gabby Crooks, ’23, is an international relations major and human rights minor. She is a Haas Center peer advisor, BOSP student ambassador for Florence, and student member of the Haas Center for Public Service National Advisory Board. She has also formerly served as a Black Recruitment and Orientation Committee coordinator and an ASSU undergraduate senate member, as well as being the former co-president of Stanford Women in Law. She is originally from Montgomery County, Maryland.
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