Exchange Matters / July 12, 2022

Lessons Learned About Civic Engagement and its Impact Abroad

Compiled by Rachel Mintz, Communications Intern, Global Ties U.S. 

Civic engagement is a regular theme highlighted through the International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP). This month, Global Ties Network members El Paso Council for International Visitors, Global Santa Fe, Global New Orleans, and the International Visitors Center of Jackson explore this topic through IVLP projects relating to democracy, voting rights, national security, and rule of law. Take a look at how the IVLP intersects with community policing, youth civic engagement and volunteerism, and the role of civil society in the integration of immigrants. 

El Paso Council for International Visitors 

IVLP: Law Enforcement – Community Policing 
NPA: Meridian International Center

Man standing at board presenting while group of people sit listening.

Victor Manjarrez Jr., Ph.D., discussed the importance of the U.S.-Mexico border with IVLP visitors. Both photos provided by El Paso Council for International Visitors.

In April 2022, the El Paso Council for International Visitors (EPCIV) welcomed their first in-person project since 2020. The “Law Enforcement Community Policing” program consisted of eight individuals from Brazil, Chile, El Salvador, Honduras, Panama, Uruguay, and Venezuela. The program examined U.S. border issues, migration, trans-border crime, narcotics enforcement, and human trafficking.  

Victor Manjarrez Jr., Ph.D., Director of the Center for Law and Human Behavior at the University of Texas at El Paso and retired Border Patrol Chief, spoke at the first meeting. Manjarrez discussed the U.S.-Mexico region, explaining that the border served as a living laboratory that illustrates the complexity of a border’s unique location. He discussed how this particular border generates cutting-edge research in support of the nation’s border security and the criminal justice system and led the IVLP visitors in a lively conversation as they examined the externalization of borders and migration programs sponsored by the United States. 

On the second day of the program, Nicole Schiff, Executive Director of the Paso Del Norte Center of Hope, discussed the initiatives and activities of her organization. The center is El Paso’s primary anti-human trafficking nonprofit and has a mission of protecting victims of human trafficking and modern-day slavery. The center partners with local schools, law enforcement, medical professionals, social services agencies, and faith-based groups to provide training, services for victims, and advocacy.   

In addition, the international visitors connected with their U.S. law enforcement counterparts at the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) to discuss drug-related crimes and common challenges throughout the Americas. The group also discussed best practices for and the global collaborative nature of the El Paso Intelligence Center, which is housed with the DEA at the Fort Bliss military base. 

EPCIV Members Anna Aleman and Louie Salazar hosted a welcome reception for the IVLP delegation at their home. The festivities included a flag cake for each country, Mexican food, and evening drinks. Guests partook in friendly conversation in Spanish as they forged lasting friendships, highlighting the importance of international exchange programs like the International Visitor Leadership Program. 

People sitting at long dining table eating a meal and chatting.

IVLP visitors enjoy home hospitality and lively conversation.

As Chief (retired) Manjarrez explained after his meeting, “This experience has been unique and very gratifying personally. I’ve had the opportunity to speak to people from all over the world, people I never imagined I would have spoken to. I’ve built some good friendships. To this day, people from years ago send me emails looking for different types of information. The International Visitors [Leadership] Program is a good place for anyone looking for a worthwhile investment of time and resources.”  

 – Araceli McCoy, Executive Director 

Global Santa Fe 

IVLP: The Role of U.S. Civil Society in the Integration of Immigrants
NPA: Meridian International Center

Group of people holding up yellow shirts in front of a sign reading "Somos Un Pueblo Unido."

The group met with Gerard’s House and several other civil society groups focused on humane treatment for immigrants and refugees. Photo provided by Global Santa Fe.

In April 2022, Global Santa Fe, in partnership with Meridian International Center, had the privilege to host a group of international visitors from Spain for a project titled “The Role of U.S. Civil Society in the Integration of Immigrants.” The group included six individuals with varying occupations ranging from providing care for LGBTQ+ immigrants to assisting Sub-Saharan African immigrants obtain jobs. Immigration is an immensely important issue in New Mexico, in part because of the state’s large immigrant community. Almost one in 10 residents were born in another country, while one in nine residents is a native-born U.S. citizen with at least one immigrant parent. 

Participants met with several civil society groups that are working in Santa Fe to ensure that immigrants and refugees are treated humanely and that their human rights are respected. An especially powerful meeting occurred with Gerard’s House, an organization providing free, bilingual grief support groups for children who have experienced a life-changing loss, such as the death of or separation from a parent or other loved one. The participants and Gerard’s House staff were able to share experiences and perspectives on the importance of providing accessible resources to serve immigrants’ psychological and material needs for immigrants to fully integrate and thrive in society. 

Group of people sitting in a classroom around a rug.

IVLP program participants discussed the similarities and differences in the integration of immigrants in Spain and the United States. Photo provided by Global Santa Fe.

While there are many differences between Spain and the United States when it comes to immigration and the integration of immigrants into society, this project highlighted the many similarities. In both countries, xenophobia and racism result in inhumane immigration policies and the consequential pain and suffering many immigrants face. However, as was exemplified by the international participants and the New Mexican civil society groups they met with, there are also many people fighting to make their communities more equitable, safe, and welcoming homes for all. We are grateful to have witnessed the connections made and the lessons learned, all of which reminded us of the importance of international exchanges and our commitment to continue connecting Santa Fe with the world. 

– Jessie Dickter, Program Coordinator 

Global New Orleans 

IVLP: Youth and Civic Engagement
NPA: American Councils for International Education 

People smiling on a screenshot of a Zoom meeting.

In the IVLP project, New Orleans professionals, alongside youth empowerment leaders from California, led a conversation on working with youth volunteers and activists. Photo provided by Global New Orleans.

In April 2022, Global New Orleans hosted an inter-regional IVLP project on “Youth & Civic Engagement” with American Councils for International Education (ACIE).  

Working together with ACIE’s Program Officer Nathan Eckman and Senior Program Coordinator Theresa Hale, we facilitated a Citizen Exchange Circle for the group. Citizen Exchange Circles provide a unique format for informal professional exchange – focusing on sharing information with the goal of building relationships, ideas, and potential actions for future collaborations.  

New Orleans professionals, alongside youth empowerment leaders from California, led a conversation regarding best practices in working with youth volunteers and activists. Participants discussed how to use their platforms to encourage youth to take ownership of their futures through civic engagement and volunteerism. Executive Director Meg Miles and Marketing and Events Coordinator Leah Espinoza of New Orleans-based YAYA (Young Aspirations/Young Artists), a nonprofit that empowers youth to be professionally self-sufficient through creative self-expression, local action, and educational experiences and opportunities, shared the accomplishments and lessons learned from their work with YAYA. Executive Director Veranisha Thompson discussed her work managing Capital Access and leading JEDI (Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion) HR at Fund 17, and how the organization began as a student-led movement before evolving into a holistic enterprise across the greater New Orleans area.  

This group of IVLP participants was also able to meet with Angela Cryer, Director of Talent Partnerships at the New Orleans Business Alliance (NOLABA), the official economic development agency for the City of New Orleans. A public-private partnership, NOLABA was formed in 2010 by a coalition of business and civic leaders to reposition New Orleans as the ideal intersection of commerce and culture. Cryer’s presentation communicated the importance of civic engagement as part of NOLABA’s mission to help inform, educate, and prepare youth to capitalize on the many opportunities New Orleans has to offer. 

As the group discussed, youth empowerment is connected to secure employment and economic impact. By engaging youth through community service and volunteerism, and by utilizing political, social, and economic policy formulation as the building blocks for opportunity, youth can influence community decision-making processes.  

– Chelsea R. Brauwn, International Visitor Program Manager 

International Visitors Center of Jackson 

IVLP: Rule of Law and the U.S. Judicial System
NPA: Meridian International Center

Screenshot of a Zoom meeting.

IVLP visitors discussed challenges in implementing the rule of law in Mississippi with local speakers. Photo provided by International Visitors Center of Jackson.

The International Visitors Center of Jackson was founded in the late 1980s to further internationalize Mississippi. For more than three decades, we have continued to advance this mission through our work on the International Visitor Leadership Program, such as when we virtually hosted visitors from the Western Hemisphere for an IVLP project themed “The Rule of Law and the U.S. Judicial System.” The visitors met with local officials such as Candace Gregory from the Office of the Attorney General of Mississippi; Magistrate Judge LaKeysha Greer Isaac from the United States District Court, Southern District of Mississippi; Major Charles Haynes from the Mississippi Bureau of Investigations; and Sheriff Tyree Jones from the Hinds County Sheriff’s Office. The implementing National Program Agency was Meridian International Center.  

This January 2022 program stood out to our staff because of our speakers’ passion for authentically communicating the challenges they currently face in implementing the rule of law in Mississippi. We were equally impressed by the questions asked by the visitors and ideas sparked from meeting with our speakers to address the challenges they face with implementing the rule of law in their respective countries. We believe the program impacted both our speakers and the visitors and gave everyone in the session something to think about going forward.  

Hosting this program virtually was quite different from when we would host the rule of law programs in-person. We felt that the authentic Mississippi hospitality our visitors would experience was not fully transmitted through the virtual meeting. Through virtual programming, we could not share our excellent home hospitality and great soul food. On the other hand, we can afford more virtual meetings with multiple speakers in the same session as opposed to individual meetings with each speaker, as we have done in the past. Now, different speakers can answer the same question simultaneously, allowing visitors to see different perspectives on and solutions to global issues. 

– Sreenath Panchagnula, Graduate Assistant