PENN YAN — Last February, Anne Meyer-Wilber went to El Paso, Texas to see for herself what conditions were like for refugees at the U.S.-Mexico border.
“When I first saw this, I thought it couldn’t be true,” she said. “We, as Americans, can’t be treating people like this.”
In November, Meyer-Wilber returned with two other Penn Yan-area residents — Debbie Koop and Peggy Soule — and spent two weeks there. What they saw will be the focus of a presentation Friday evening.
Meyer-Wilber, Koop and Soule will discuss their “border awareness experience” during a 6:30 p.m. talk at the Penn Yan United Methodist Church, 173 Main St. It is free and open to the public.
The event is organized by the Penn Yan Action Coalition, which formed in 2017 to address immigration and other issues of concern to Yates County residents. Mickey Gilbert Schultz, one of the group’s organizers, said at the time they were trying to help a friend and farmworker who was eventually deported.
“We knew very little about the immigration system and the legal system in this county. We figured if we didn’t know, the larger community didn’t either,” Gilbert Schultz said. “We took it upon ourselves to form an apolitical but informative group.”
On her first trip to El Paso, which she made by herself, Meyer-Wilber heard from immigration attorneys and went across the border to Juarez, Mexico, where she saw “tent cities.” On the most recent trip with Koop and Soule, she volunteered at a refugee hospital.
“I don’t want to make this political. I want to make it humanitarian,” she said, noting she also does presentations for area schools and organizations. “You don’t have to go to the border to be kind to your neighbor. You can see people not as a stranger, but as your neighbor.”
Gilbert Schultz said the coalition, an offshoot of Literacy Volunteers, plans on starting a community read this year similar to Geneva Reads.
The book likely will be “The Line Becomes A River” by Francisco Cantú, a former Border Patrol agent.
“All of us are very active and engaged politically, but we don’t want to turn people off or preach to the choir. This is about informing people,” Gilbert Schultz said. “Regardless of how you think this should turn out, immigration is a huge mess in this country. We want to make people understand why people make the choice to come to this country.”