Social Science Scholar: Working with Deportees

In summer of 2018, I conducted research for my honors in the major thesis by volunteering with organizations in Tijuana, Baja California to assist in resettling people who have recently been deported. I primarily worked with Madres y Familias Deportadas en Accion, but also worked with Unified US Deported Veterans and Friends of Friendship Park. As an intern, I learned about the social services most in demand in the border area, as well as how recent political actions affect the everyday lives of border communities.

Taegan Dennis working with Madres y Familias Deportadas en Accion.

While with Madres y Familias Deportadas en Accion, I worked with other volunteers to coordinate referrals to different food banks, shelters, and offices for people to apply for government documentation. Often, people arrive to Tijuana recently deported without access to the necessary social networks to survive in a strange city. Our office provided free phone calls to family in the US and Mexico and additional support in helping people resettle or decide how to reorganize their lives during the course of migration. Working within a network of businesses owned by dual citizens and deportees, our office offered job referrals to many people migrating through the city. I additionally worked with Unified US Deported Veterans in their advocacy campaigns to return all deported US Veterans to the US as legal citizens. Operating similarly to Madres Deportadas, UUDV offers immediate outreach to any US veteran living in northern Baja California and assists in coordinating referrals for counseling (such as drug rehabilitation or PTSD), shelter, and jobs.

My summer experience reversed my plans for after graduation. I had previously planned to apply straight to JD/MA programs for cultural anthropology and immigration law before pursuing a PhD in legal anthropology. After meeting different legal agencies and academics, I’ve decided to take the next couple years to build professional experience before applying to programs in media anthropology. While I still value the power of law in creating just systems and will continue to participate in politics to my maximum democratic effort, I no longer hope to effect change by working within the legal system. I was stunned by how little could be done within the legal system to support people who had been deported from the US and was instead drawn to the power of the media to shape public discourse. I hope to build experience to one day write for a popular science magazine and work to bridge academia with outside communities.

Taegan Dennis is a junior studying anthropology, Spanish, and international affairs.

The feature image is from the Madres y Familias Deportadas en Accion Facebook page.

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