Social Justice Border Immersion

The Grassroots Practice of Engaged Justice

Home / Global / Social Justice Border Immersion


A Virtual Migration Along & Across the US-Mexico Border

In this unprecedented time, Via International will provide students the opportunity to build community relationships through a Virtual Migration along and across the U.S. Mexico Border. We know from over 40 years of experience, that solidarity and service work must be accompanied with long term action in order for the practice of engaged justice to create positive change. We will continue to act together in this new space, ‘visiting’ people and community organizations to discover and impart the tools of activist citizenship to the next generation of leaders, so that they may utilize these vital skills in their own communities.


Community and Region

Human migration is a global phenomenon that has become a defining feature of life in the 21st century – per the United Nations, “An estimated 244 million people currently live outside their country of origin, many having moved for a variety of reasons in which the search for protection and the search for opportunity are inextricably entwined.”  To contend with migratory flows, the United States federal government, under Presidential administrations of both parties, has worked across several decades to “harden” the US-Mexico border.   Despite these efforts,  growing numbers of people of Mexican and Central American ancestry are now found in cities and towns throughout the United States, demanding ever greater language and cross-cultural competencies of leaders and institutions.  And for all the popular portrayals in the news and social media, the overwhelming preponderance of human encounters along the US-Mexico border continue to be characterized by fundamental human values like family, work, friendship and solidarity.

These values are powerfully on display in the San Diego/Tijuana borderlands region, including at landmark locations like these:

Chicano Park was established on April 22, 1970, when local activists demanded that land under the Coronado Bridge be donated to the community. Over time, the bridge’s pillars became a canvas for the artistic expression of Chicano culture. Chicano Park, now the largest outdoor mural park in the nation, has received international recognition as a major public art site for its commanding mural paintings of the past and present struggle of Mexican and Chicano history. The park has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places and was designated a National Historic Landmark in 2016. Chicano Park receives many thousands of visitors throughout the year, culminating in the annual anniversary event (Chicano Park Day), typically attended by up to 15,000 people. 

La Plaza “El Chaparral” is adjacent to the Garita El Chaparral, the pedestrian crossing of the San Ysidro Port of Entry, the busiest land border crossing in the world. Tens of thousands of people cross through the Garita El Chaparral each day while commuting to work from Tijuana to San Diego. Thousands also arrive annually at La Plaza “El Chaparral” to seek asylum in the United States.

Friendship Park is the historic binational meeting place overlooking the Pacific Ocean on the US-Mexico border. At the park’s center stands a stone monument first established at the end of the U.S.-Mexico War to demarcate the new international boundary. The monument’s base sits half in the United States and half in Mexico, symbolizing the international friendship called for in the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo. On August 18, 1971, then-First Lady Pat Nixon inaugurated the surrounding area in the U.S. as California’s Border Field State Park, expressing hope that the site would someday be home to an “International Friendship Park.” This location has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1974. Thousands of people visit the Mexican side of Friendship Park each weekend.  Thousands more visit each year and from both sides of the border to visit with their loved ones “through the wall.”

What do we have to learn from the people working for justice along and across the US-Mexico border?

Typical Program

Our global experiences are designed to give students the opportunity to build active relationships with grassroots leaders in Tijuana and San Diego.

Session 1) will begin in the heart of Tijuana’s Colonias working with Promotoras and exploring how development takes place at the community level in Mexico. Then we will virtually migrate into the United States with an original video crossing of the border.

Session 2) establishes a deep context for the Reality of the Border Wall and how it shapes our entire region. Next, we’ll join the Amigos Car Club, San Diego’s founding Lowriders on our way from the border to downtown San Diego with an original video riding down historic Highland Avenue in order to visit the very heart of the Civil Rights Movement in the Southwest, Chicano Park.

In Session 3) we will read world class murals and meet the muralists who paint change.

Finally, the apex of our virtual experience together will conclude with a one-day retreat titled: Developing a Grassroots Practice of Engaged Justice. 

Contact us for a Sample Itinerary


Local Community Development Organizations

Los Ninos de Baja California – The Mission of Los Niños is to improve quality of life by creating opportunities for children and their families to realize their human potential through participation in the development of their communities. Community Development is a participatory process through which community members identify community needs and organize themselves to take the actions necessary to improve their quality of life.

Binational Friendship Garden – Located within the bounds of Friendship Park, the Jardín binacional de Amistad / Binational Friendship Garden promotes native flora and friendship literally across the US-Mexico border.

Friends of Friendship Park – The Friends of Friendship Park are members of the community working to create a future in which the public will have unrestricted access to Friendship Park / El Parque de la Amistad, the historic meeting place at the westernmost end of the US-Mexico border.

Unified U.S. Deported Veterans – It’s all about veterans helping veterans. That’s right, there are U.S. VETERANS who fought for their country and then were deported after serving time for a crime!

Madres y Familias Deportadas en Acción – Founded in 2015, Madres and Familias Deportadas grew out of relationships with people in the USA who wanted to help families separated by deportation. The organization seeks to encourage a more balanced narrative about Mexican migration and people who have been deported to Mexico.

Chicano Park Steering Committee – This volunteer staffed committee helps to maintain the National Historic Site, Chicano Park. Giving tours, helping in mural restoration, and planning the annual Chicano Park Day, the Steering Committee is a symbol of community development embodying the spirit of the Chicano Movement.

Chicano Park Museum – The Chicano Park Museum educates individuals about Chicana/o, Latina/o, and Indigenous culture and history.  Preserving a history of struggle, the Museum empowers individuals to become agents of change in their own community.

Via International – Via’s Community Development initiative supports leaders promoting sustainable community development in the California/Baja California border region. Our responsive and inclusive approach supports a wide range of programs, always and everywhere designed by local leaders who are best positioned to know the needs of their communities.



For convenience a custom Zoom link will be used for all group meetings … but we all know that ZOOM fatigue is very real. Our expert presenters use a variety of tools to ensure that virtual site visits do not resemble business meetings or classroom lectures.


The PADLET app provides a platform for interactive learning throughout the entire program. A HomeBase padlet makes for a one-stop location for all essential information.  Separate padlets create opportunities for individual participation and group interaction both during and between site visits, while creating a record of the collective experience.


Google Earth allows us to travel through space, gaining panoramic perspectives of the San Diego/Tijuana region, while dropping into specific locations for a “street view” and to meet up with local leaders.  Here is a map of some important locations on the Camino de San Diego.

And here is a 2-minute sample.


The Givebutter software is designed specifically for online crowd fundraising campaigns.  If your students need help raising support for their participation, we can help train them in best practices of grassroots fundraising.  Check out one of our recent campaigns in support of The Migrant Kitchens of Tijuana.



  • Explore the character of homo sapiens as a migratory species.
  • Discover the historical origins of the US-Mexico border and the challenges of identity and belonging this history has presented to the region’s residents.
  • Come to understand different experiences of the border – from “immigrants” to “refugees” to “fronterizos” (or “borderlanders”).
  • Meet the real people and hear the real stories behind the images you see on your screens or the events you read about in the news.
  • Learn about the journeys toward justice undertaken by courageous migrants and deportees and those who work alongside them as allies.
  • Participate in a process of self-exploration and self-understanding, while embracing your own “grassroots practice of engaged justice.”


  • Loyola University Maryland “I highly recommend Via International as a great host agency for meaningful immersion programs, both domestic and international. They are rooted in the community with years of experience and relationships, organized and offer great educational input for the participants. They have everything you need for a comprehensive experience.”
    Andrea Goicochea, Assistant Director International ImmersionsAndrea Goicochea, Assistant Director International Immersions
  • University of Colorado Boulder
    “Via International is an excellent partner in engaging students in grassroots community development. During our recent service-learning trip to Bolivia, they proved responsive to our needs and adept at working with community partners and navigating local realities. The students came away with a remarkable understanding of local issues and global interconnectedness.”
    Karey Sabol, Director of International ProgramsKarey Sabol, Director of International Programs
  • Stonehill College
    “Our first experience working with Via International was exemplary.  The communication with the organizers was thorough and timely.  All aspects of the trip were carefully considered and taken care of with great respect to our group needs and the needs of 
    the receiving community. Our students walked away with a heightened commitment to learning about indigenous peoples, immigration and migration into the United States and a desire to educate their peers, friends and families regarding the information they learned.  We are definitely partnering with Via again and are grateful for such an educational, fun and life changing experience.”
    MaryAnne Cappelleri, Campus Minister for Service Immersion ProgramsMaryAnne Cappelleri, Campus Minister for Service Immersion Programs
  • Villanova University
    “I learned that community is any group of people that can come together to support the same cause. A community can be anything from a group of people supporting immigration reform to a group of people supporting Chicano Park. I felt that the service projects we worked on made a big difference. Both the garden and cultural center really benefited from our work, and we learned a lot about the culture that surrounds these communities.”
    Will Morris, Political Science MajorWill Morris, Political Science Major
  • Villanova University
    “My experience at the U.S./Mexico border challenged me in ways I never expected. I found it surprisingly difficult to stand against the wall separating the United States from Mexico. Even with the complex political issues and polarizing opinions surrounding immigration, I learned that the most important part of the debate to always keep in mind is the human dignity in every person, regardless of what side of the wall he or she grew up on.”
    Bridget Black, Political Science MajorBridget Black, Political Science Major

Via Global Education creates opportunities to learn from local leaders and engage directly in the work of sustainable community development.  The intentional formation of community leaders — among both visiting and hosting communities —  is the focus of every trip we lead.

Program Development

Via’s unique expertise combined with collaborative input from your leaders and participants will produce a refined itinerary. We enjoy unique access to local partners and can create and coordinate all activities for in-person trips and virtual visits.

Transformational Learning

Via creates dynamic cultural exchange through presentations by local experts and partner organizations. A Via Guide will accompany your group through its entire experience to maximize the relational learning of participants.

Sustainable Development Support

Your support not only underwrites your (virtual) site visits, but also affords stipends to local community leaders; supports grassroots organizations working for social justice and sustainable community development; and helps to sustain Via International’s ongoing work with Communities, Programs, and Partners.

For More Information or to Request a Quote

Subscribe to our Newsletter

Join Via’s Email List