Sonia Nazario has been writing about immigration for more than 30 years, and the two-time Pulitzer Prize winner told Butler University’s incoming students on Academic Day, Monday, August 20, that she has a better approach to fix a broken system. Nazario’s book Enrique’s Journey was given to more than 1,300 incoming students as this year’s common read.
As she addressed students, she stated border enforcement, guest-worker programs, and pathways to citizenship have all failed. What the United States needs to do, she said, is:
- Increase foreign aid to Central America to address the root causes of violence. In Honduras, she said, we are spending $100 million a year on violence-prevention programs. The money funds outreach centers that identify the most at-risk children and provides them with outreach centers, family counseling and other programs to keep them safe. The most violent neighborhood in that country saw a 77 percent drop in kids engaging in crime or abusing drugs and alcohol. Homicides are now being investigated there, and the number has decreased 62 percent. “I think this is a brilliant investment on our part,” she said during her talk at Clowes Memorial Hall. “Spend millions there rather than having to spend billions on these kids once they arrive at our border.”
- Provide a safe haven for people who are arriving at our border and are fleeing danger. Instead of cutting the number of refugees we let in to 45,000 a year, we need to increase the number. If Germany can admit 1 million people, we need to show similar compassion.
- Radically alter our war on drugs. “We spend $1 trillion on the war on drugs,” she said. “Every household in this country has spent $10,000 in recent decades … by locking up non-violent offenders. And it hasn’t worked.” She advised more prevention, drug treatment, and legalizing small quantities of all drugs. “If you don’t, you simply move the problem around,” with violence shifting from Colombia to Mexico to Central America to, now, the Caribbean, she said.
Nazario, whose book recounts the harrowing story of a Honduran boy looking for his mother, 11 years after she is forced to leave her starving family to find work in the United States, said the United States needs to uphold its core values.
“During World War II, we turned away a ship with 900 Jews aboard,” she said. “We wouldn’t let them dock in our shores. Hundreds of those Jews were murdered in the Holocaust when they were sent back. You’ve all probably read The Diary of Anne Frank. Well, we rejected Anne Frank’s family in 1941. And there was a moral reckoning in this country after World War II. We said never again. We were the leaders in providing the refugee movement around the world. Yet now, we are doing something that is all too similar.”
She asked the students to get involved in some way and help end the immigration crisis.
“You can do anything that you set your minds to,” she said. “And I think that you—unlike my generation, which has made a mess of this issue—you can actually provide real solutions that are humane and that actually work to slow the flow of people coming to this country illegally.”
Nazario’s visit to Butler was part of the Welcome Week tradition of inviting an author to campus to discuss a book that the new class has read. Jennifer Griggs, Academic Orientation Programs Manager, said the program “is really about bringing an intellectual experience into an overall orientation program and making that leap to academic life in the classroom.”
After Nazario’s talk, the students broke into groups with faculty members to discuss what she has said. The purpose of that, Griggs said, is to simulate course discussions and get students comfortable speaking and sharing and talking in the classroom when classes get started on Wednesday.
Luke Haas, a first-year student from Bath, Indiana, said he was glad to have a common read—and the chance to interact with Nazario.
“It definitely broadened my horizons,” he said. “I’m more conservative, but I understand problems like this and how we need to fix them. This is a problem everyone is dealing with. She essentially put it out and there and said this is what we have wrong and there are things we need to fix. She does the research and understands that there are multiple places to blame—Republicans, Democrats, people in their own countries. She knows that certain things don’t work because she has the statistics and the personal interaction to know.”