RIAS Senior Program
Nov 25-Dec 02, 2018


RIAS Senior Program

“Refugees, Immigration and Border Security”

Eight American journalists in Germany: Berlin, Munich, Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Zagreb

Lee Anderson, KTVZ, Bend, OR

I’m not exactly sure when it happens; learning right from wrong, good from bad. We learn and grow (hopefully) with good guidance from parents, teachers and mentors. Certainly it happens at an early age. As we grow we keep those fundamental values, but something wonderful happens. We begin to Cloud our thoughts of how the world works with a notion “something is different”. The world isn’t exactly how our childhood is laid out. Let me steal a line or two from Dr. Boucsein in Zagreb, “The world isn’t black and white. There are grey areas, and many shades of grey”.

I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect on our trip to Germany and Croatia regarding immigration and border security. Mainly I wanted to keep my eyes and ears, and mind open, and learn all I could. What happened was beyond any expectation. I came home feeling that I had indeed learned and grown as a journalist and as a person.

As a RIAS member for more than two decades, I’m always surprised at how I see a change in the young reporters I’ve sent on the RIAS trips. As I’ve told Erik Kirschbaum, they’ve all come home changed as journalists and as people, all for the better. Of course I feel like the proud papa, seeing this epiphanous change. They appreciate what they’ve learned, and all have said how it was a life-changing experience. I’ve seen the result. Now, It’s my turn. Maybe it’s a bit selfish getting to have the experience for myself, and getting “that feeling”.

“That feeling” began Sunday night with our dinner at the Syrian restaurant. Hearing from a refugee, seeing refugees work, seeing them dining, noticing their clothing, hearing their conversations. These people weren’t downtrodden, didn’t seem out of place, they seemed like people who were where they wanted to be.

“That feeling” continued throughout our many meetings with high-level experts on immigration. I found the meeting with Beatrix Von Storch particularly eye opening. Agree with her politics or not, she certainly gave points I could see people believing. Truthfully, I went into that meeting with some seriously preconceived notions. After the meeting I got another viewpoint which I could understand. I got the sense that her viewpoints, although not aligned with my own, could have validity with many people, which of course they do. The meeting with the Hungarian Ambassador was a bit more clouded. Although I got the sense he believed his government’s actions were justified, I didn’t understand clearly whether he was skirting the issue, or somehow being defensive with us. Either way, I still had another learning experience.

The trip to Bavaria was outstanding! Learning how the state police are tasked with maintaining order, and dealing with thousands of migrants, was most definitely a highlight for me. Each speaker was able to give insight into the problems associated, but yet no one seemed to take a hard line. Hmmm, could there be more grey area that I had not considered? Dare I say, “humanity”? yes, clearly.

On to Croatia and even more opportunities to expand my knowledge. The border patrol speakers, including the police searching the trucks, were insightful and quite helpful, and did not have any problem answering our questions.

Then came the highlight of the the entire trip… at the Syrian border. I don’t know if the young Iranian man at the fence had any idea how much we appreciated him coming to the fence and speaking. The woman who told us we couldn’t take pictures also added to the moment. I don’t think she realized how we journalists absolutely love that. “Makes for good TV” we say in the Broadcast News industry. Again,another shade of Dr.Boucsein’s grey area.

It was an eye opening experience, and a great week of learning, and expanding my horizons. Now I look just like all the other young journalists who’ve returned from their RIAS trips!

I am eternally grateful for having this opportunity, and I look forward to many more years of association with such a terrific organization.

Robert Bodisch, Texas Department of Public Safety, Austin, TX

John Burnett, NPR, Austin, TX

Tom Hawley, KSNV-TV/Channel-3, Las Vegas, NV

Hugo Perez, NMSU News 22, Noticias 22, Las Cruces, NM

Adam Reiss, NBC News, New York, NY

Yami Virgin, KABB, San Antonio, TX

Sara Wittmeyer, WFIU/WTIU, Bloomington, IN

I’ve been involved in the RIAS program for nearly a decade. My newsroom hosts German journalists every year, but it had been a one-way street. November’s trip to learn about borders and migration was my first visit to Europe. Erik’s reading materials provided good background on what the trip would entail, however the experience was so much more than I could have imagined. Our hosts organized an incredible program; no one could argue that even one minute was wasted! During our one-week trip we visited dignitaries from Germany, Macedonia and Croatia. We got access to important think tanks and people working on the front lines trying to make border policy and enforce it. People were forthcoming during our meetings and I developed a new perspective on migration – it’s not just an issue in the U.S. or in the EU, it is a global issue. I appreciated that we had the opportunity to meet with people from all sides of the issue, ranging from the Soros Foundation to the co-leader of the AfD party.
I can’t think of a better way to describe the trip than life-changing. As a news director I consume a lot of news, but to meet the people who are living it showed me how little I actually understood. The problems facing the EU and the world are complex. I hadn’t really considered this because in the U.S. the conversation seems to be limited to a political debate over whether or not there should be a wall between the U.S. and Mexico.
It’s fair to say that at the end of the trip I probably left with more questions than I had at the beginning but I think that speaks to how successful the program was. During the midterm election season, Hoosiers we spoke to identified immigration as the number one issue that was driving them to the polls. This RIAS trip was the primer I needed to understand how big the border issue is and why people in Indiana should care. Our news team will be doing much more reporting on immigration in the New Year and my experience with RIAS will help inform our coverage.