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Desiré Borges faced harassment in high school and eventually dropped out. She gave birth last year to a baby girl.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Already on the margins and ostracized

Seventeen-year-old Desiré Borges talks about the painful experience of bullying at her school in Colombia.

Although Colombia and Venezuela share a language, a border and a religion, each country harbors negative cultural biases against the other that, in stressful times, can curdle into xenophobia and prevent migrants from integrating.

While reporting in Colombia in April, WBEZ reporter Chip Mitchell frequently heard bigoted views against Venezuelan migrants that mirrored some of the resentments Chicago residents have expressed over the past two years since asylum-seekers began arriving from Texas.

Such bigotry has emerged in every South American country where Venezuelans have migrated, according to Human Rights Watch researcher Martina Rapido Ragozzino. “There’s this strong gender component in discrimination toward Venezuelans,” she said.

[Read the full story — “What Colombia can teach Chicago about managing a migrant wave” — at wbez.org/colombia.]

🎧 In this audio story, WBEZ reporter Chip Mitchell talks to:

  • Desiré Borges, a 17-year-old single mother, who says cruel treatment from teachers in Colombia drove her to drop out of school;
  • Pilar Páez, a nurse at a public hospital in Bogotá, who perpetuates bigoted beliefs about Venezuelan culture;
  • Economist Liliana Morales Hurtado, who directs a governmental office in Colombia tasked with combating xenophobia nationwide;
  • Laura Jiménez Cortés, who works for an organization in Bogotá that uses software to spot xenophobia in the news and social media.

What drove migrants from Venezuela: Since 2014, about 7.7 million Venezuelans have left their country to escape an economic collapse. Colombia has received more of these migrants than any other country.
How Venezuelan migrants cross into Colombia: Venezuelan migrants often lack passports to enter Colombia legally. So they cross on illegal foot trails controlled by criminal groups. As in the United States, border communities in Colombia are grappling with how to handle migrants.
The xenophobia Venezuelan migrants face: Colombia’s Venezuelan influx has led to accusations the migrants are fueling crime and drawing resources needed by low-income Colombians. This resembles some responses to Venezuelan arrivals in Chicago.
Integration in the face of marginalization: In Chicago, migrants are desperate for easier access to work authorization. Colombia shows how it can be done.

The Democracy Solutions Project is a collaboration among WBEZ, the Chicago Sun-Times and the University of Chicago’s Center for Effective Government, with funding support from the Pulitzer Center. Our goal is to help our community of listeners and readers engage with the democratic functions in their lives and cast an informed ballot in the November 2024 election.

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