Senior Fellow Bill De La Rosa was drawn to Humanity in Action because of its commitment to resist injustice and promote human rights. In 2009, Bill’s mother was separated from their family and barred from re-entering the United States for ten years due to her immigration status. After her separation, Bill became passionate about immigration reform and fighting for immigrant rights. When he heard about the John Lewis Fellowship in Atlanta, he immediately applied, he says, “because I felt that learning about the history of the Civil Rights Movement would help me understand where I could contribute in today’s human rights struggle to keep immigrant families together.”
While spending three summers conducting research and providing humanitarian relief along the US-Mexico border, Bill became increasingly aware of a disconnect between what he was experiencing and his peers’ understanding of immigration. Seeing this as an opportunity to bring awareness to the issue on his campus at Bowdoin College, as his Action Project Bill designed and led an alternative spring break trip.
Bill created a service-learning program that educated ten of his Bowdoin peers about what is happening at the Arizona southern border. He drew from his previous summer experiences to establish and lead six weekly seminars on campus that focused on the politics of immigration and the causes of the humanitarian crisis at the border. He developed a trip itinerary that included working with NGOs, such as Tucson Samaritans, observing a federal court hearing to witness the mass prosecution of migrants, listening to a forensic anthropologist describe the challenges of identifying human remains, visiting the border wall and most importantly, speaking to migrant deportees at a migrant shelter in Mexico.
Students thoughtfully reflected on the desperation people felt, the psychological trauma caused by family separation, and the disconnection between immigration politics and the reality on the ground.
“Humanity in Action gave me the confidence to know that I too can make a difference in this world. As a Mexican-American, first-generation college graduate from a low-socioeconomic background, being selected as a Fellow was a life-changing experience. It demonstrated that an international organization believed in me and my ability to become a leader for positive change.”
While in the desert, students witnessed the apprehension of a destitute migrant and found the ID of a young man from Guatemala. When they attended a federal court hearing, students observed how women, shackled from feet, waist and wrists, struggled to wipe their tears away as they were sentenced to a private detention center. In Mexico, students listened to the stories of men and women who were risking their lives for a better future. In the evenings, Bill and his co-leader facilitated group discussions to give their peers a chance to process these profound experiences.
His Action Project reached far more people than the ten participants. Three students published stories while others organized lectures, discussions and film screenings to raise awareness. Through Bill’s Action Project, he was able to inform Bowdoin students about the human consequences of US immigration policy at a moment when greater cross-cultural understanding was needed.
For Bill, being a part of Humanity in Action was both a humbling and empowering experience. On the one hand, he is humbled knowing that he is playing a small but simultaneously important role in bending the arc of the moral universe towards justice. On the other hand, Bill feels empowered realizing that he is part of a network of people who speak out against injustice and are actively making this world a better place.
“Joining Humanity in Action provided me with an international network of like-minded individuals who challenge me to think beyond my potential.”
After graduating, Bill worked as a Truman-Albright Fellow in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in Washington, DC. He also had the opportunity to represent the Office of Refugee Resettlement as a temporary spokesperson at a government shelter for 2,400 unaccompanied minors and conduct high-level briefings for national stakeholders in Fort Bliss, Texas.
“I have numerous memories from my Humanity in Action Fellowship that I still draw upon today. I continue to recall the engaging debates that I had with the other Fellows as well as meeting and hearing from legends of the Civil Rights movement such as Dr. Roselyn Pope, Dr. C.T. Vivian and Congressman John Lewis.”
In 2017 Bill received a Marshall Scholarship to study for two one-year master’s degrees at the University of Oxford. He completed his first graduate degree in Migration Studies in 2018 and his second degree in Criminology and Criminal Justice in the summer of 2019. Bill continues to give back to Humanity in Action by reviewing applicants for the US. He also maintains close friendships with Fellows and staff.
Bill also shared personal news with his Humanity in Action Network. “Last year I led a successful international campaign to temporarily reunite my family after my dad suffered a second stroke and was given a few weeks to live. My mother had initially been denied a temporary humanitarian pass to come say her last goodbyes to my dad.
However, after calling newspapers, news stations, and elected officials, and starting a Change.org petition–which amassed over 16,000 signatures–the US government reversed its decision and allowed my mom to return to the U.S. for 30 days. Humanity in Action very much helped me spread the word and I will forever be grateful.”
Bill plans to pursue law school in the near future in order to continue fighting for immigrant families and their right to remain together. In the words of Congressman John Lewis, he will continue to speak out where he sees wrong:
“I am unafraid to get into “good trouble” for what is right. My life’s work has just begun.”