Think Tank students delve into immigration

By By Carlos Mayorga

By Carlos Mayorga

A group of honors students released “Immigration in Context: A Resource Guide for Utah” earlier this month, containing research they compiled for two semesters.

The Think Tank on immigration was formed last August, and was composed of 11 students from various majors and backgrounds–from “people who had experienced immigration personally to people who had only an idea of immigration through newspapers,” said Valery Pozo, a junior majoring in history and teaching.

Students spent the first semester finding studies and conducting research. They hosted a number of guest speakers–offering a range of perspectives on immigration–including the head of the Utah Minutemen Project and advocates for immigrant rights.

Scott Curtis, a recent U graduate in English, said that as part of their research they wanted “to turn this into a bi-lateral report”–meaning they wanted to study the issue from both sides of the border.

Last December, during Winter Break, the students and the program’s two faculty advisors traveled to Michoacán, Mexico.

Colleen Casto, one of the faculty advisors for the group and the U of U Community Outreach for Diversity, said the trip exposed students to a “wealth of information that they couldn’t have gathered here (in Utah).”

Casto said students were able to meet with local, state and national officials in the Mexican government to “learn more about the Mexican perspective–to find out how government felt about it, how local people felt about it, what was being done, if anything, on immigration.”

They also saw first-hand how some dollars earned in the U.S. were being put to use in Mexico.

Students visited a hydroponic tomato greenhouse that participates in the 3-for-1 program. Sponsored by the Mexican government, every dollar sent back from immigrants in the U.S. in the form of remittances is matched three times–$1 from the federal government, $1 from the state government and $1 dollar from the municipal government.

The money is given on the condition that they find a specific project that is beneficial to the community at large.

The greenhouse employs local farm laborers who might otherwise have emigrated to the United States in order to support their families. The students were able to meet with people who had been to the United States for work, families who had relatives working in the United States and people who would cross the border for work if they were given the opportunity, according to their resource guide. The group also met a number of people who said they weren’t interested in emigrating to the United States for work, Casto said.

Curtis said that after returning from Mexico, the students wanted to get the information to as many people as possible. Their resource guide was the most effective way to accomplish that.

“The one thing they decided they wanted to do is give credible information, and they decided that the guide would be the way to do it,” Casto said. “They were very adamant about just wanting to get people the resource and letting them dig deeper and form their own opinion.”

The students distributed the guide to legislators at the state capitol recently, and have received requests from professors at a number of Utah colleges and universities, health care professionals and various members of the community.

They are still trying to get the guide out to “people who influence debate, whether they be policy makers or who deal with the lives of immigrants on a regular basis, like educators,” Pozo said. “We hope that they truly understand what immigration is.”

Hannah Nam, a senior majoring in mathematics and Think Tank student, said that the media does not always do a good job providing all the facts.

“The media is really inconsistent in the way that they portray immigrants,” she said.

Pozo agrees, adding that the media often helps spread a lot of “emotional jargon.” As an alternative, “we are hoping that people look at this guide and look at the numbers and the facts,” she said.

“We were really conscious of how divisive this issue is,” Curtis said. “We really tried not to draw any conclusions one way or the other, but we did want to put the information out there and let the audience draw more informed conclusions.”

The guide is available to view and download on the U Honors website at

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A group of 11 students traveled to Micoacán, Mexico last December gathering information for the recently released “Immigration in Context