On the frontlines of the US migration crisis

As the IWMF Elizabeth Neuffer Fellow, one of the biggest challenges I faced was balancing my academic commitments with the rich journalistic opportunities that The Boston Globe offered. I was eager to make the most out of my time at MIT and delve into research on migration. But my passion for on-the-ground reporting on migration stories wooed me out of the classroom and into the field.

Early in my fellowship, I realized that planning and setting clear goals will help me avoid getting overwhelmed. I discussed this with Jim Dao, my Opinion Editor at The Globe, and we agreed that I would focus on a significant reporting project that could take a few months while also contributing a few smaller stories.

I saw a perfect reporting opportunity in the record numbers of migrants arriving at the southern border, with 2.5 million crossings by the end of 2023. Migration is a perennial hot-button issue in the U.S. This year, Massachusetts, in particular, is facing unprecedented numbers of migrants, overwhelming the state’s shelters.

As a reporter, I have always had a passion for migration stories. The mass movement of people in search of safety and shelter is like embarking on a second life—leaving everything familiar for the unknown. This journey of desperation, grit, and hope has always filled me with a mix of wonder, compassion, and curiosity. I have seen these dynamics playing out in Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh, in Europe during the Syrian refugee crisis, in the Middle East and now at the US-Mexico border in San Diego, California.

Hundreds of migrants undertake a grueling journey through Central and South America, navigating the perilous Darien Gap and cartel-controlled territories to seek asylum in the US. They travel thousands of miles on foot, often without adequate food or water, driven by the hope of a better life.

In Tijuana, at the US-Mexico border near San Diego, I witnessed the daily tide of migrants flowing into the US and the myriad challenges they face. To my surprise, the migrants included people from India, China, Afghanistan, Jordan, and Yemen, in addition to those from Latin American countries.

The sight of exhausted, hungry women, men, and children was heartbreaking. I visited several open-air detention facilities and gathered firsthand accounts from migrants about their perilous journeys. A young mother from Belize, traveling with her three children aged three, six and 12, told me she wanted to give her children a better life. An ex-Afghan soldier shared his fear of living under Taliban rule, which forced him to leave his wife and five children behind. An Indian family embarked on the arduous journey because they believed America would offer better opportunities.

Amidst doom and gloom, you will always see extraordinary acts of kindness. I saw this humanity in the dozens of volunteers at the border providing food and water to the migrants. These people who come from all walks of life were there because they believe that migrating to another country to seek asylum is a human right. Despite facing difficulties from an apathetic system, they line the migrant routes every day and offer a warm welcome to those arriving in America.

This experience at the border was one of the most valuable learning opportunities I have had. It brought to life the theories and concepts I studied in my refugee advocacy and international human rights law classes. After spending nearly a week interviewing migrants, volunteers, and advocacy groups, I returned with a renewed commitment to humanizing the migration crisis. The trip underscored the importance of our role as journalists in shedding light on these human stories.

With millions of forcibly displaced people worldwide, the search for safety and a better life is a fundamental human instinct that deserves understanding and empathy. Through this IWMF Fellowship and beyond, my goal is to highlight one of the most pressing humanitarian issues of our time.