In English, el otro lado means the other side. For a small group of high school students from Tucson and Berkeley, Calif., el otro lado meant learning the other side of the story of our day: illegal immigration. Regardless of where you live in this country - or any country, for that matter - illegal immigration is the story. From Arizona to Georgia and from Washington D.C. to London, lawmakers and societies are grappling with ways to deal with the flow of people seeking new and better lives. While illegal immigration is the story of our times, few people see it face to face. Most people see images of illegal immigration refracted through television or the Internet. But through a partnership between San Miguel High School of Tucson and St. Mary's High School in Berkeley, a group of students learned about the story. "What I know is is what I see in the media, and it's biased," said Dereck Leach, a 16-year-old sophomore at San Miguel, a small Catholic prep high school on the south side. Last week Leach and four of his school mates were joined by 12 students and two teachers from St. Mary's, also Catholic, for several days of immersion examining illegal immigration from various perspectives. From meeting deported immigrants to talking to U.S. Border Patrol agents, the students witnessed and dissected the complexities and nuances of illegal immigration. "In school you learn about global issues, but it's not the full picture," said St. Mary's sophomore Asha Moor, 17. Here, on the ground, the students saw a bigger picture. They went to the desert and saw migrants' foot trails and retrieved personal items desperate people left behind. They went to a Nogales center where migrants are fed and saw the border barriers. They toured the Nogales Border Patrol station and sat in a U.S. federal courtroom in downtown Tucson during a "Streamline," a criminal court hearing where apprehended undocumented migrants are ordered deported. They talked with Mike Wilson of the Tohono O'odham Nation and asked questions of local writer Margaret Regan. Whatever preconceived notions the students had of the border and illegal immigration, they quickly evaporated. "I knew migrants had a hard time crossing, but I didn't realize how hard it is," said San Miguel sophomore Vanessa Green, 16. For Luke Rose of St. Mary's, the visit turned inside out the popular portrayal of a border that is violent and controlled by drug gangs. "America is trying to hide the truth about the border," said Rose. "We don't look at the humane side of things." What they saw are two communities on each side of the international line confronting a flow of people lured by the promise of something better in this country. Even before the California students arrived, they and their Tucson hosts immersed themselves in the topic, said Alma García-Mejia, a Spanish teacher at San Miguel and coordinator of the three-year-old Otro Lado program. García-Mejia hopes the program will continue to attract students from other states. Previously students from Oregon, Louisiana and California have come to Tucson to learn about el otro lado. The students called the experience invaluable and possibly life-changing. They said they will share with their families and friends what they learned about the other side of the story. It's a story that needs to be seen and felt, not just read about or viewed on a television screen, they said. "I actually wish everybody would go through something like this," said Green. Neto's Tucson: 'Otro Lado' program offers students a close-up look at immigration issue ---------------------------------------------------- Now show American students how those wonderful "immigrants" take a half way decent neighborhood in the US and turn it into a Latin American shithole where services are given to "LATINO ONLY" organizations and the brave Americans who didn't run away are denied their rightful benefits and THEIR American dream.