14: Mexico Delegations
Beyond research, communications, and messaging, the foundation tried a more one-on-one educational approach: A series of delegations to Mexico allowed small groups of Long Islanders to understand firsthand the roots of immigration from that country.
The birth of the idea came from Witness for Peace, a Washington-based organization concerned with US policy in Latin America. Witness for Peace had been hosting delegations to Mexico since 1983. Its leaders, looking for funding, sent an email to Sandow. “He forwarded it to me asking if I was interested,” Dunn said, “and I jumped on it, knowing it would be an invaluable learning experience for Long Islanders.” So, starting in 2010, the foundation made annual grants to Witness for Peace for a total of seven delegations to Oaxaca, where Witness for Peace had an office, and one to the Arizona-Mexico border.
The purpose of the delegation was to allow Long Islanders to gain a greater understanding of what is causing migration north from Mexico and Central American countries. Once they had experienced Mexico personally, the expectation was that the 12 to 15 delegation members each year would share with communities all over Long Island the understanding that they had gained. They would do that by organizing public forums, writing op-eds, hosting radio shows, making presentations to colleagues, dedicating high school and college classes to the topic, and other educational activities.
The one frustration was that, after inviting county legislators to participate in the educational delegation, the foundation learned that ethics board rulings advised legislators not to go, given that the foundation would be paying their costs through the grant. Despite the inability of elected officials to join the delegation, this program was an immensely worthwhile addition to the foundation’s immigration portfolio.
Following the 2015 delegation, this is how Dunn described their experiences, in Mexico and back home on Long Island, in her review of a proposal for renewal of the grant: “Experiences such as visiting a migrant shelter; hearing heart-wrenching stories from people who have experienced detention and deportation; and conversing, laughing, crying, and sharing meals with host families in a rural or semi-rural village immerse delegates in the daily lives of Mexicans, allowing them to contemplate immigration from the other side of the border.”
Delegates from all eight delegations have shared what they learned in Mexico with their professional networks, students, colleagues, fellow congregants, and the media, thus helping create more understanding of immigration among the general public.
The delegations have been “eye-opening for everyone who has participated in them,” Dunn said, “and life-changing for most.”