This year’s Welcoming Week events in Charlottesville include an opportunity to learn how everything from stressful living conditions in Central America to lonely families weary of separation has been changing the face of immigration in America.

“The first thing is to understand who your new neighbors are and why they came here,” author and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Sonia Nazario said.

Nazario will speak at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday in “ ‘Enrique’s Journey’: How to fix immigration in a humane way,” an event presented at The Haven as part of Welcoming Week.

Nazario will be joined by moderator David Leblang, who is Randolph Compton Professor of International Affairs at the Miller Center and is the Ambassador Henry J. Taylor and Mrs. Marion R. Taylor Endowed Professor of Politics. He also serves as professor of public policy in the University of Virginia’s Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy, and as director of its Global Policy Center. During Wednesday’s conversation, they’ll dive into a variety of factors influencing immigration, from changes in U.S. immigration policies over time to the war on drugs to escalating violence in Central America.

“Years ago, the typical person was coming for economic reasons, from Mexico,” Nazario said. Over the past six or seven years, however, more arrivals are families with children fleeing violence in Central America from gangs and drug cartels.

“They used to be coming for a better life, and now they’re running for their lives,” she said.

Nazario is the author of “Enrique’s Journey,” which won the Pulitzer Prize for feature writing in 2003 as a series of stories in the Los Angeles Times and later was turned into a best-selling book by Random House in 2006.

Nazario wrote about the arduous trek 17-year-old Enrique took from Honduras to find his mother, Lourdes, in the United States. She had left Honduras when he was 5 to work and send money home to her family so he and his sister could stay in school longer and build better futures.

To get a better sense of what Enrique had endured, Nazario reconstructed his 3,000-mile trip — twice. What she discovered was a harrowing four-month ordeal that involved riding on top of seven different freight trains.

Having more facts could help people in this country who are dismayed by the influx of newcomers understand why immigrants are risking so much to reach the United States, she said.

“I think people don’t understand that a lot of people are following the legal process” to enter the country, Nazario said. “They are coming to lawful points of entry. They are availing themselves of a legal process.”

The pain of separation from family members who stay behind is real.

“I think most of these folks would rather stay in their countries with everything they know and love,” Nazario said.

Learning why people are determined to relocate to the United States can prompt discussion of dangerous conditions in Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador that are prodding people to leave — and, in some cases, the U.S. policies that are exacerbating them.

Nazario’s talk is part of a busy schedule of Welcoming Week events. Earlier in the day, at 1 p.m. Wednesday, she will take part in “An Immigrant’s Story with Sonia Nazario” at Northside Library.

Also participating this week will be Lee T. Bycel, author of “Refugees in America.” Bycel will speak at 1 p.m. Wednesday at the University of Virginia Health System’s Pinn Hall Auditorium, 12:30 p.m. Thursday at Westminster Presbyterian Church and 7:30 p.m. Thursday at Congregation Beth Israel.

Welcoming Week also will include voter registration events at 4:30 p.m. Monday, 4:30 p.m. Thursday and 12:30 p.m. Saturday at Northside Library.

To learn more about Welcoming Week events, check out the schedule at welcomingweek2019.

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