UNM Communication and Journalism Professor Richard Schaefer is well known for his research on video editing techniques, teaching students how to become better journalists, and working with the Congressional Budget Office on better informing the American public through infographics.

But what many of his peers don’t realize is that after helping to create a joint journalism program between New Mexico and universities in Mexico, the Cross-Border Issues Group, he became one of the foremost experts in the Southwest on Latin American immigration into the United States.

“That was, for me, a slightly serendipitous thing. I didn’t say ‘I want to become an immigration expert,’ but some people had suggested that I might want to try running a summer journalism program down in Mexico.”

Schaefer scoured UNM for students interested in learning more about the politics, geography, and culture of Mexico and Central America. Then he would lead these students on a month-long trek through Mexico, and in later years Central America.

It was during this program that he saw firsthand the people behind the immigration debate and the impact that immigration was having throughout the region. Through this project, his teams worked with groups whose policies often put them at odds with each other.

“Each year we went deeper. We would look at where the immigrants came from. Each year we would go to a different part of Mexico or Central America and we slowly but surely became experts. We developed an expertise that was based on working and being with immigrants, working with non-governmental organizations, with policy makers, and working and being with the Border Patrol.

“Quite frankly there are very few of those four types of organizations that can work together. Border Patrol can’t work closely with immigrants. They can’t go into Mexico and do stuff. NGOs struggle to work across those borders. And so our Cross-Borders Issues Group, with Mexicans and Honduraños and Americans involved, we had a little competitive advantage for a while.”

Note: “Due to safety concerns, UNM cancelled Cross-Border Issues Group summer programs in 2010 and 2011, though the group did continue its research in southern and central Mexico in 2012. Feature photo courtesy Richard Schaefer