Photos by Alan Cohen
The Pro Immigrant Rights Student Union (PIRSU) recently put up a decorated fence around the seal on Jackson Plaza to draw attention to the inhumane conditions in immigrant detention facilities, as part of their annual ‘Border Fence’ project.
The fence was visible from April 10 to April 14, and it featured student-created infographics and statistics related to immigrant rights. These included information about mental health issues among immigrants, immigration myths debunked, facts regarding migrant children and resources to support undocumented communities in the United States. In addition, kids’ clothes and drawings could be seen hanging on the wall, alongside a large “We are all immigrants” sign, signifying the role of settler colonialism in the creation of the United States.
According to PIRSU president Melissa Melquist (‘25), the project was started in 2012 by WU Causa, PIRSU’s predecessor organization. The fence has been put up annually since then, except during the COVID-19 pandemic. The purpose of the demonstration is to convey “the idea of how cruel and harsh it is inside detention centers” and educate the public about immigrant issues.
Melquist also stated that continuing the project after the pandemic was very difficult, as most of the past organizers had already graduated. Furthermore, PIRSU had to rent a fence from an outside company, coordinate with Campus Safety to get permission for the demonstration and receive funding from the Associated Students of Willamette University (ASWU). Approximately 10 to 12 members of PIRSU were involved in the Border Fence project.
Delia Olmos-García (‘14), the director of Willamette Academy, is the advisor to PIRSU. She stated that having a fence at Jackson Plaza “forces anyone walking by to see and interact with something that is often non-visible or hidden from the public eye.” Olmos-García also stressed the importance of raising awareness of the “systems of oppression that immigrants and refugees face.”
PIRSU’s Border Fence project serves as a powerful demonstration of the harsh reality that immigrants face in detention centers. By utilizing art and education to draw attention to these issues, they aim to raise awareness of the systemic oppression that immigrants and refugees experience. Despite the challenges posed by the pandemic and the logistical difficulties of organizing such a demonstration, PIRSU successfully brought attention to this important cause.