Adventurous public relations students returned from an exploratory trip to the border determined to share the stories of cattle ranchers struggling with the impact of illegal immigration.
Students Maria Landron and Madison Stoneburner were transformed by their December expedition to a sprawling ranch in Nogales, Arizona, and desolate areas of the Arizona-Mexico border where people frequently enter the country illegally. The students interviewed law enforcement officials and third-generation ranchers who have had their trucks stolen, homes burglarized and livestock troughs destroyed.
“They don’t have a way to tell their story because (illegal immigration) is such a partisan issue,” Landron said. “They want to tell their story in a way that people will listen.”
The fact-finding trip enabled the students and their team from Dr. Wes Jamison’s public relations campaigns course to develop a campaign for the former head of the Arizona Cattlewomen.
“The life of these people is so different than what I expected” said Landron, a junior from Royal Palm Beach.
Added Stoneburner, “It’s a different world, and people don’t realize it.”
As a result, Landron, Stoneburner and teammates Isaac Miles, Abigail Slater and Nathan Wesselius developed a campaign with a humanitarian focus. The campaign is for the capstone course for students majoring in public relations.
“In my 30 years as a professor, this is probably the most transformative experience I’ve seen students have,” Jamison said. “They were utterly transformed.”
Jamison’s students are spending their spring break at the University of Arizona, educating fellow college students about human trafficking and drug smuggling a mere 70 miles from their Tucson campus.
Landron and Stoneburner, a junior from Canfield, Ohio, previously interviewed University of Arizona students to gauge their awareness of the struggles at the border. After an hour, it was clear they had little knowledge of what has happening in their backyard.
Neither did Landron and Stoneburner until they saw it for themselves.
Ranchers once left their doors unlocked and allowed their children to play freely. Now they carry guns at all times because they feel unsafe, Stoneburner said. Cartels smuggle people and drugs into the country from Mexico, then steal the ranchers’ trucks to get back to the border. The smugglers — known as coyotes — abandon people to die of thirst or starvation in the ranchers’ backyards. Their charges, desperate for water, drain the ranchers’ livestock troughs.
The ranchers have been begging for help.
“It’s so hard to live there on properties their families have owned for so long,” Landron said.
Landron, who hails from the Dominican Republic, is equally sympathetic to immigrants’ desperation. They endure perilous treks through arid desert or dangerous mountains to get to their final destinations — and safer, more prosperous lives — in the U.S.
In a form of human trafficking, coyotes hold immigrants hostage until their families in Central and South America pay thousands of dollars for their release. Many women and girls are sexually abused as they’re transported.
“It’s life-threatening,” Landron said.
Despite the overwhelming brokenness, the students discovered sources of hope. Cochise County authorities said they reduced drug smuggling by prosecuting teenage boys who are used as drug mules, rather than simply deporting them. Doing so frees them from the cartels, Stoneburner said. Nonprofit organizations in northern Arizona support women who have been trafficked.
The public relations students hope that by sharing stories from the border, they will inspire other young people to think more deeply about the complex issues there.
“A lot of times, what you see is not the full story,” Landron said. “Do your research and be knowledgeable about what you say.”
Added Stoneburner, “Consider the implications of your actions. You’ve got to consider these things before you walk in to vote.”
Photo 1: Maria Landron and Madison Stoneburner, juniors studying public relations, made a trip to Nogales, Arizona, across the border from a Mexican town of the same name, in December. It was a fact-finding trip to gather stories from cattle ranchers and law enforcement officials who are affected by illegal immigration.
Photo 2: Madison Stoneburner, a junior studying public relations, poses for a photo in Arizona. She visited Arizona's border with Mexico on a fact-finding trip for her public relations capstone project. She and her teammates in Dr. Wes Jamison's public relations campaigns course are educating college students with stories from cattle ranchers affected by illegal immigration.
Photo 3: Maria Landron, a junior studying public relations, poses for a photo in Arizona. She visited Arizona's border with Mexico on a fact-finding trip for her public relations capstone project. She and her teammates in Dr. Wes Jamison's public relations campaigns course are educating college students with stories from cattle ranchers affected by illegal immigration.