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Immigrant Mountaineer Movement Mini-Conference, Spring 2023

Introduction by: Lisa Pamela Lopez-Escobar and Sophia Rodriguez University of Maryland, College Park

Guest Blogger: Felicia Arriaga, PhD, Baruch College

April 6, 2023

In this week’s blog, Dr. Felicia Arriaga, Assistant Professor at Baruch College’s Marxe School of Public and International Affairs, provides details and reflections on the 2023 Immigrant Mountaineer Movement (IMM) Mini-Conference held in Appalachian State University. The mini-conference brought together students, practitioners, staff, faculty, and community members to discuss immigration issues in an often ignored region of North Carolina. Dr. Arriaga shares highlights from conference sessions such as: Criminalization and Deportation of Immigrants, Health and Immigration, Educational Experiences and Access to Higher Education and Dialectical Behavior Therapy with Latino Families. The Immigrant Mountaineer Movement (IMM) and mini-conference demonstrates the importance of fostering local and regional partnerships to create better support systems for immigrants in North Carolina. We hope sharing the work of the IMM can inspire the creation of similar projects and events at other universities to bolster regional networks for immigrant affected communities.

Relatedly, Sophia and colleagues at University of South Carolina, University of Buffalo, College of Charleston, the Citadel developed the Southeastern Immigration Studies Association (SEISA) annual conference (2020-present). This year’s conference will be held at USC-Upstate Greenville, SC April 14-15. Check it out!! These local conferences are critical for developing relationships across contexts and disciplines to shed light on immigrant equity.

We welcome additional comments and reflections, please email us at: or through the Immigrant Ed Next website.

By Felicia Arriaga, PhD


In 2019, 5 staff and faculty got together to create the Immigrant Mountaineers Movement (IMM), formerly known as the Immigration Awareness and Advocacy Project at Appalachian State University. We initially wanted to introduce and expand the knowledge of immigration-related issues at Appalachian State. We did so by taking a three-pronged workshop approach: Developing Awareness, Skill-building, and Action Planning. But we also realized much more is needed. Approximately 200 allies were trained during the 2020-2021 academic year; and others requested our support in training their entire classes, their interns, their employees, etc.

At Appalachian State university, immigration-affected students are increasing in number, and including immigrants is a way for Appalachian to maintain its strategic diversity plan. "To expand the borders of social access and opportunity, our individual as well as community healing becomes integral to" the futures of immigration-affected Mountaineers and critical steps to the development of all students, staff, and faculty as responsible global citizens (Hofman, 2020). The Immigrant Mountaineers Movement is already engaging the campus, including its student body, in the difficult work of examining immigration policies in the United States and how these policies, along with other social norms are shaping the experience of immigration-affected Mountaineers.

During the early Immigration Awareness & Advocacy Project planning stages, room in the budget was allocated for travel in order to offer hands-on experiential training to faculty, staff, and students at the U.S.-Mexico border. The effects of COVID-19 drastically impacted the methods in which we were able and chose to reach our outcomes. In the midst of social revolution, the professional representatives of this initiative discovered multiple opportunities for local and regional partnerships that could be strengthened with further development and university support.

2023 Mini-Conference

Recognizing the need for people to come together, particularly in a region of the state that often goes overlooked, we decided to host a mini-conference to welcome students, practitioners, staff, faculty, and community members to discuss immigration issues from their personal and professional perspectives. We had 125 registrants and about 98 participants. In total, we had 12 different organizations and agencies represented and 4 departments provided substantial support in the form of providing a workshop and coordination. We did an open call for workshops, topics of discussion, research presentations, etc. and were excited by what people proposed. After careful consideration, we put together 8 different sessions.

Morning sessions

Roots & Routes: Immigrant and Refugee Voices in NC: Stories from education workshops with Latinx immigrants and Hmong refugee families from western NC. These stories amplify participants' lived experiences and highlight some of the challenges and journeys along the way. The workshop shared some of the videos and discussed the implications of using them in public school classrooms.

The Criminalization and Deportation of Immigrants Research Panel included Dr. Cameron Lippard’s presentation about mexican immigrant women deported during the Trump era using TRAC immigration data, Dr. Felicia Arriaga’s book presentation on Behind Crimmigration: ICE, Law Enforcement, and Resistance in America, and Nataly Jimenez’ honors thesis where she interviewed sheriffs about their involvement in 287(g) immigration enforcement partnerships.

Lunchtime speaker

We had the pleasure of hosting Stefania Arteaga as our lunchtime speaker. Stefania Arteaga is an organizer and strategist who has played a crucial role in advancing immigrants’ rights organizing in North Carolina. Stefania co-founded the grassroots group Comunidad Colectiva and the Carolina Migrant Network. For years she has worked on pushing back the tide of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and local law enforcement collaboration. As an immigrant from El Salvador, she spent years organizing undocumented students, deportation defense campaigns, and toward the successful end of 287(g) in Charlotte/Mecklenburg County. She co-led one of the biggest immigrant marches in Charlotte, NC in response to the 2016 presidential elections and was previously featured in Immigration Nation, a docu series on Netflix.

Courtesy of University Communications (from left to right): Dr. Felicia Arriaga, Sarah Donovan, Stefania Arteaga, Dr. Aniseh Bro, Dr. Juhee Woo

Afternoon session Block 1

The Health and Immigration research panel featured a presentation by the Camino Research Institute which completed a community strengths and needs assessment in Western, NC, a mixed method study to understand factors inhibiting health equity and identify community needs, strengths and barriers. Following the research presentation, Juan Carlos Rivera and Alex Noriega discussed their experience providing healthcare and food access services to Latino immigration-affected communities through the Hunger and Health Coalition and High Country Community Health.

The Refugee and Non-Immigrant Status Designations featured legal, personal and media representations of migrants, with a focus on the variation of legal status designations. Panelists shared their personal, professional, and research-based insights to introduce participants to the influence that legal status has on migrants’ experiences.

In the Educational Experiences and Access to Higher Education panel representatives from educational institutions of all levels (Watauga County Schools, Surry Community College, Isothermal Community College, and the College Foundation of North Carolina-Spanish Services) discussed the challenges encountered by immigration-affected youth in their pursuit of education, as well as the strengths employed by immigrant families in accessing educational opportunities for their children.

Afternoon session Block 2

In the Making Change Near & Far discussion, discussants highlighted opportunities to change the conditions for migrants through micro and macro level practices and policies. Local presentations from IMM and Appalachian State staff highlight opportunities to support immigrants on our campus and in our community. Representatives from regional and state-level organizations round out this discussion with a focus on statewide policy opportunities.

The Workshop conducted by El Futoro: Dialectical Behavior Therapy With Latine Families provided an overview of how acculturation gaps, Latine culture, and contextual and systemic factors can impact mental health in Latine families. The workshop ended with case scenarios, role plays, and discussion that brought the concepts covered to life in practical ways for those in attendance.

Last, but not least, Immigration-affected AppState students shared their personal experience of navigating the K-12 education system and being a Mountaineer.

Coordinator Reflections

My biggest worry leaving Western, NC–the place I grew up–to pursue another academic appointment was that I’d be leaving a gap and fortunately, this was the best way to ensure connections can develop among various efforts, organizations, groups, etc. Making these connections means that we can work toward creating better support systems for immigrants in Western, NC. ~Felicia Arriaga

It was great to see how many people wanted to learn about immigration-related issues on campus and in the broader community in the high country and western NC. Providing the space to share the experience of immigration-affected individuals and having their voices heard and represented was an integral part of the conference. ~Juhee Woo

Time and time again, IMM participants highlight the need for more conversations on immigration, both on campus and in the community. By hosting a mini-conference in the spring of 2023, our team showcased our efforts, that of various parts of the university community, and immigrant voices from the local community. IMM facilitators greatly benefited from attending similar conferences like the Southeastern Immigrant Studies Association (SEISA) and La Conferencia hosted at UNC Chapel Hill’s Latinx Center. Creating something similar at Appalachian State will give us the opportunity to highlight all the wonderful opportunities the university offers for students, staff, and faculty. In addition, by bringing in experts from across the region, students, staff, and faculty will be able to ground their efforts with those of immigrant affected communities across the region.

Be sure to follow us or tweet about #ImmigrantEdNext

Suggested Citation: Lopez-Escobar, L., Rodriguez, S. & Arriaga, F. (2023, April 6). Immigrant Mountaineer Movement Mini-Conference. Immigrant Ed Next.

Copyright © 2022: Sophia Rodriguez, Immigrant Ed Next-All Rights Reserved

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