Binational conference focuses on US-Mexico border

by Jasmine Bermudez, Senior Staff Writer

San Diego State’s School of Social Work, Escuela de Trabajo Social de Tijuana and Universidad de la Frontera Tijuana collaborated to hold the first student-led binational social work conference.

The day-long conference, titled “Socio-political Context of the US-Mexico Border,” took place on March 17 in Tijuana, Mexico.

The conference included keynote speakers like Pulitzer Prize winner Sonia Nazario and Colegio de la Frontera cultural studies professor Maria Dolores Paris Pombo.

SDSU School of Social Work Lecturer Silvia Barragan said the goal of the conference was to be the cornerstone of a human bridge of service and compassion that would unite both countries in their work with families.

Barragan said she wanted the event to bring awareness to the plight of migrants on both sides of the border.

She said the $33,000 Student Success Fee grant they received from SDSU helped them create the conference.

“When we got it, we realized we had the resources to put on the kind of event we were dreaming of so we (were able to) invite speakers that we didn’t think we could afford,” she said.

She said 250 students and almost 100 people from the general public attended the conference.

SDSU School of Social Work Director Melinda Hohman said the conference gave her an in-depth knowledge and an examination of the current issues.

Hohman said the conference was about bringing together participants and examining what it means to be a social worker on the U.S.-Mexico border.

She said immigration, human tracking, and human rights were discussed, as well as the 4,000 Haitians that are currently in Tijuana.

“Even though we are a short neighbor, the conference being in Tijuana allowed people attending from the United States a global perspective,” Hohman said.  

She said it was significant because social workers are often called to work with vulnerable populations,  “It is a very difficult time for families who are afraid because of the threat of deportation and breaking up of families by the U.S. current administration,” she said.

SDSU graduate student Kayla Mulholland said the conference helped to build a steady dialogue about the issues that face the trans-border communities.

“We (came) together on both sides of the border to recognize our common goal of helping the vulnerable, the children, the families and the immigrants,” Mulholland said.

Barragan said the planning committee met on Saturday, March 18 and started generating ideas for next year’s conference.

She said students from other schools of social work, professionals and professional organizations have reached out to her and said they would like to join in on their effort.

“This bridge is growing by the day,” she said.