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Exploring migration and border issues in the American southwest

Tucson, AZ
Dates May 26 - July 21
Program Focus

Addressing the root causes of migration from Central America and Mexico to the United States, students will partner with community service organizations focused on migration and border issues.

This program is organized by BorderLinks in collaboration with DukeEngage.

Curricular Connections: While all students are welcome to apply, this program may be of particular interest to students studying Spanish, Latin American, and Latina/o Studies, Gender, Sexuality and Feminist Studies, Global Cultural Studies, Sociology, Cultural Anthropology, Political Science, and Public Policy. (See below for additional details about connecting this program to your academic work.)

Program Leaders
Service Themes
  • Community Development & Outreach
  • Human Rights & Civil Liberties
  • Immigration & Refugees
  • Public Policy
  • Race & Ethnic Relations
  • Homestay
  • No Foreign Language Requirement

DukeEngage-Tucson Overview

Students will explore the root causes of migration through their work with local organizations and home-stay families in Tucson. Participants will learn about issues related to the U.S./Mexico border, focusing on human rights, economic and racial justice, comprehensive immigration reform, indigenous land rights, and environmental issues around border and immigration policies. Students will also have opportunities to connect their experiences in these border regions to realities of life in North Carolina.

Immigration is one of the largest domestic social justice challenges facing both the United States and Latin America today; families are being separated and people are dying nearly every day while attempting to cross the border. Under a faltering economy, hostilities against immigrants in the U.S. have been growing in every state across the nation, including, to a large extent, in North Carolina. In 2010, Arizona came under international scrutiny with the passage of one of the toughest immigration laws in U.S. history — SB1070, which gave permission to local police to act as immigration agents and ask people for proof of citizenship based on their skin color, music they were listening to, and line of work. Local, state, and international relations are strained over this issue, and individuals, families and communities are affected by the policies and practices of immigration enforcement. The importance of this program and the awareness it creates has only been highlighted through the current administration’s actions.

Led by BorderLinks, an organization with 30 years of experience using experiential learning and popular education, DukeEngage-Tucson has worked with Duke’s Program in Latino/a Studies in the Global South, Center for Documentary Studies, and Student Action with Farmworkers to provide students with a comprehensive understanding of border and immigration issues we face today. Other collaborations with Duke faculty, staff, and Durham nonprofits are ongoing.

After arriving in Tucson, students will spend a few days learning about Southern Arizona and the borderlands. During orientation week the students will participate in activities to prepare them for working in Tucson and the dynamics of group living.

Every student will work directly with a community organization. Students will spend roughly three weeks living with Spanish-speaking host families in Tucson and the remaining time living in dormitories at the BorderLinks headquarters. Throughout the program, students will come together for dinners and reflections at the BorderLinks headquarters.

Several weekends will be spent on educational delegations throughout the border region of Southern Arizona, under the leadership of BorderLinks’ staff. Participants will meet with activists, policy makers, academics, and local residents, including recent migrants, to discuss the relevant issues. Some weekend time will be free and students will have the opportunity to participate in individual and/or group activities and trips to the surrounding areas.

Student Learning Objectives/Outcomes

By the end of the program, students will be able to talk about social justice organizing and the interconnected nature of all struggles. They will be able to critically analyze and think about their current role in society in order to analyze their privileges and how those could be used to advance social change. The students will also gain basic knowledge and skills related to organizing such as creating timelines, objectives, goals, marketing strategies and outreach, and research for a specific issue. Lastly, the students will learn to manage their time throughout the summer as they will work 40 hours per week, write blogs, participate in enrichment activities, and have weekly reflections.

Partnership Opportunities

Volunteer opportunities will range from working with migrants, day laborers, indigenous peoples, LGBTQ groups, and people without homes, to organizing “know your rights” clinics, participating in research related to immigration or public health, assisting with community action/interaction, and publicity efforts. We plan to continue placing students with some of the organizations that students have enjoyed and contributed to in years past including:

  • Coalición de Derechos Humanos ( The Coalition for Human Rights is a non-profit organization that has been part of the Tucson community for more than 20 years. They focus on leading know your rights trainings in the migrant community, running a migrant hotline for people looking for their loved ones in the desert, fighting for unpaid wages of migrants, and leading a variety of community events throughout the year.
  • Mariposas Sin Fronteras ( Mariposas Sin Fronteras is an LGBTQI migrant organization that focuses on uplifting the voices of migrants that also identify as LGBTQI. Their work centers around visitation to detention centers, writing letters of support to detainees, fundraising and paying bonds for people in detention, and creating a space for LGBTQI migrants in the Tucson community.
  • No More Deaths ( No More Deaths is an organization that focuses on providing humanitarian aid in the desert for migrants. They created and maintain a camp in the middle of the Sonoran Desert for volunteer who provide aid to people who are on their journey to the United States. They also go to remote parts of the desert, where migrants are more likely to cross through, to drop off supplies for migrants. These supplies include water, food, clothes, and first aid kits.
  • ScholarshipsA-Z ( ScholarshipsA-Z is a local nonprofit organization that focuses on creating access to higher education regardless of immigration status. They have led and continue to lead the undocumented youth organizing effort in Tucson, which includes creating know your rights presentations for legal guardianship to youth and parents, healing spaces for undocumented youth, GED assistance for undocumented people, scholarship assistance, and getting in-state tuition for DACA individuals in Arizona.
  • Southside Worker Center ( The Southside Worker Center is a local grassroots organization that focuses on providing a living wage for all people regardless of immigration status. They create a hub for workers around Tucson who need help with learning English, creating contracts with their employers, fighting wage theft, fundraising for bonds for other day laborers who have been detained, and making sure the community knows their rights with respect to jobs and being detained by local officers.
  • Paisanos Unidos ( Paisanos Unidos is a migrant-led organization composed of families from the Tucson area. This organization was founded as a response to the policing of communities of color; linked but not limited to the passing of SB1070. This organization focuses on teaching know your rights clinics for communities affected by immigration law, creating plans of emergency in case of detention, fundraising to pay bonds for people that have been detained, and teaching each other how to organize to pass legislation at the local and state level.

Students will also get to know other organizations in the region through presentations, community events, and enrichment activities.

Students are encouraged to look at the websites of our community partners for more insight into each organization’s mission and programs. Students should also view our previous program websites created by Duke Students, as these will provide information on what to expect from the volunteer placements and the program overall. The following are the links for our 2018 and 2017 Blogs, 2016 website, and Lina Palancares’s 2015 DukeEngage story.  Students are encouraged to contact prior program participants at Duke for more information on the program and partner organizations. Students will learn more about placement opportunities during the Interview period for our program, and will be able to indicate their placement preferences to BorderLinks staff.  The on-the-ground coordinator will work with students and the community partners to place each student at an appropriate site. Community partners may interview students by phone and/or ask for additional information including resumes or brief essays in advance of placements.

Program Requirements

Language Requirements: Spanish language ability is strongly preferred in many of the placements but is not required. Student participants with no Spanish language ability have proven as successful and satisfied with the program as those who are fluent in the language.

Coursework Requirements: No specific courses are required for participation in this program. Students are strongly encouraged to enroll in courses related to the program themes prior to the summer program. We have found that the classroom connection and knowledge gained enhances the summer experience dramatically. Suggestions include Latino/a Studies courses, Documentary Studies courses, courses that examine globalization and/or global politics, public policy, economy, environmental issues, and Spanish Service Learning courses (see “Curricular Connections” below).

Personal Qualities:

  • Empathy and cultural sensitivity: – effectively and respectfully communicates and interacts with people of different ages, races, religions, genders, sexual orientations, and cultures; demonstrates curiosity about the lives of others without judgment; demonstrates an awareness of how others may view them in a variety of cultural settings.
  • Flexibility, patience, and motivation – willingness to listen and learn from others; ability to work on teams and on individual projects; willingness to ask questions, express needs, and seek help or guidance when needed; balanced view of the student’s role within a larger community context.

Curricular Connections

Some suggested courses include:

LSGM 201 Intro to Latino/a Studies; LSGM 306 Health, Culture, Latino Commun. (Old number LSGS 106); LSGM 308S Latino/a Voices in Duke, Durham (Old number LSGS 106ES); LSGM 316 Sociology of Racism in America; LSGM 332S Farmworkers in NC: Poverty; LSGM 336 Intro to US Latino/a Literature

History 126S Introduction to Oral History; History 127FS Globalization/Corp Citizenship; History 352 Immigrant Dreams/US Realities; History 389S Family Rights/Human Rights

Political Science 150FS Citizenship, Patriotism, & ID; Political Science 188FS American Perspective on Citizenship; Political Science 213S Engaged Citizens/Social Change; Political Science 224 Inequality and Politics

Cultural Anthropology 236S Farmworkers in NC: Poverty; Cultural Anthropology 153FS Borderline Humans; Cultural Anthropology 330S Narratives of Migration

Program Details

Description of Community: In Tucson, the BorderLinks Headquarters (office and dormitory) is located downtown and is within walking distance of the downtown area, public transportation, restaurants, coffee shops, a laundromat, gym, grocery stores, the library, and some of the placement sites. Most of the home-stay placements will be in the southern part of Tucson in predominantly Latinx neighborhoods.

Throughout the duration of the program, students will be in close contact with the BorderLinks staff, and students will be advised to always travel in pairs or groups, particularly after dark.

Tucson is a medium-size city, very similar to Durham, and is somewhat spread out. The layout of the city makes it somewhat difficult to travel by bus, which means that planning for any outing is essential. The bulk of the organizations that BorderLinks partners with are located in the downtown Tucson area, and most of them know of each other’s work or have worked with each other in some capacity. The organizing community is pretty close-knit and small, which means that students might collaborate or run into each other at events during the summer.

The heat is probably the hardest thing for Duke Students. Temperatures reach upwards of 115 degrees during the summer, and because the students are here toward the end of July, they also get to be present during Monsoon (rain season), which makes the heat humid. The most important thing is for students to protect themselves from the sun during the summer, which means wearing appropriate clothing, staying hydrated, and wearing plenty of sunscreen.

Housing and Meals: Students will reside at the BorderLinks dorm for a little more than five weeks and with local Spanish-speaking host families for roughly three weeks.

The Borderlinks Headquarters includes both offices (daytime staff) and the dormitory/living area for groups. Students will share rooms (2-3 students per room) and will share a living space, bathrooms, and kitchen space with one another, and at times with other students and visitors to the site. The Headquarters has wireless internet access, with one computer available in the residential area, and phones for receiving calls and/or emergency use. The on-the-ground coordinator lives within a short drive of the BorderLinks headquarters, and BorderLinks staff are also on-site during the daytime in the offices.

Homestay placements will be arranged based on a matching process before the group’s arrival in Tucson. Students are encouraged to participate in activities with their host families and to consider their homestay a central part of the program. Tucson homestay families have all received a thorough orientation about the DukeEngage program. The families have partnered with BorderLinks in the past, hosting students and groups in their homes, and are familiar with the organization’s educational mission. During the home-stay period, students will rely on the Tucson public bus system (Sun Tran) to reach their service placement sites and the BorderLinks headquarters. During the homestays, the Headquarters will remain open to students for daytime and evening group meeting activities.

During travel delegations, students and staff will travel together as a group and may stay overnight in churches or community centers.

While staying in the BorderLinks dormitory, some dinners will be prepared by the BorderLinks staff and members of Mariposas Sin Fronteras.  Meals prepared by BorderLinks staff will be vegetarian with some produce coming from the on-site garden.  Students will prepare their own breakfasts and lunch with food provided by BorderLinks. Students will also be responsible for cooking a few dinners a week and are encouraged to bring their favorite recipes to share.

Students will take prepared lunches with them to their site placements. About once a week, the group will have an intentional dinner together for community building and reflection. BorderLinks staff will educate students on issues of food security on both sides of the border, which is a key piece of understanding the border context and migration trends.

During homestays, the family will provide a minimum of 3 meals. Students will prepare their own lunch at their homestay to take to work and all other personal meals the host family doesn’t have capacity to prepare. Meals prepared by homestay families will likely contain meat products though vegetarians and vegans (and students with other dietary needs) will be accommodated at all times with advance notice. During travel delegations, all meals will be provided by BorderLinks.

If you do not eat certain types of food for cultural, religious or personal reasons, please contact the DukeEngage office,, to discuss whether or not your dietary needs can be reasonably accommodated at this program site.

Transportation: DukeEngage provides transportation to and from service placements and all scheduled program activities. Daily transportation to work sites will be by public bus. Students may also travel in BorderLinks’ vehicles. For travel delegations, students will travel in a 15-passenger or minivan driven by BorderLinks staff.  BorderLinks staff follow safety and emergency protocols at all times.

Communication: We assume all students will have a personal cell phone for program-related and emergency communication. As stated above, the BorderLinks Headquarters has Internet access (including wireless).  A landline telephone is available for use at the Headquarters as well. When traveling, students will be encouraged to leave laptops behind; students may determine whether or not to carry cell phones during this time.  The on-the-ground coordinator will carry a functioning cell phone at all times.  The cell phone number will be shared with students to pass on to family members for their emergency use during the travel delegations. Except in emergency situations, students will not be permitted to use cell phones during group activities, meals, or while traveling in the vans.

Local Safety and Security; Cultural Norms, Mores and Practices: DukeEngage strongly advises all applicants to familiarize themselves with the challenges travelers might encounter at this program site in order to make an informed application decision. We recommend starting with the Diversity, Identity and Global Travel section of the DukeEngage website.

Opportunities for Reflection: All students will be expected to actively participate in weekly group reflection sessions, and they will have the opportunity to share in leading these reflection sessions. A variety of reflection formats may be used, including discussion based on readings and videos, artistic activities, and journaling.

Other Opportunities: In addition to regular reflection sessions, students will be expected to post on the program blog or participate in a final group project. In 2015, for example, students made an educational and reflective zine about their summer experience to share with community partners, their home communities, and their peers at Duke University. In 2018 and 2017 our students put together their reflections on their work during the summer in the following blogs:

Other projects might include documentary, creative expression, or research projects that students will share through exhibits, forums, class presentations, independent studies, and thesis projects.

Students will have some free time to pursue social activities or have downtime, including some evening time and weekends. Open water swimming is not a sponsored activity in any DukeEngage program.

If you have more questions about the program, feel free to email the BorderLinks program organizer at

More Information

Suggested Readings

  • Border Odyssey by Charlie Thompson (Apr. 2015). See:
  • The Revolution Will Not be Funded: Beyond the Non-profit Industrial Complex by INCITE!
  • Border Patrol Nation: Dispatches from the Front Lines of Homeland Security by Todd Miller
  • Teaching to Transgress by Bell Hooks

For more recommended readings, please email or