Camila Cabello Says 'We Should All Have Empathy' for Migrants After Visiting Shelter at U.S.-Mexico Border

"This visit helped me better understand our immigration system and the heartbreaking realities that so many migrants and asylum seekers are facing at our borders," Cabello tells PEOPLE about her visit

Camila Cabello border visit
Photo: Angela Kohler

Camila Cabello had a "transformational" visit to the U.S.-Mexico border recently.

Alongside This Is About Humanity, Cabello visited families and children at the Caritas migrant shelter in Tijuana to learn more about what asylum seekers are facing as they travel to the U.S. for a better life and future. For Cabello, the visit was a reminder of her own immigrant journey and a reflection on how things would've panned out differently for her family had they immigrated in today's climate.

"Without a doubt, these are some of the most resilient people I have ever met. Many of them are fleeing life-threatening situations and experiencing unspeakable traumas just for the chance to live a safe life with more opportunity," Cabello tells PEOPLE exclusively. "These parents have some of the same hopes and dreams for their children as my mom had for me when we left Cuba."

"Our stories started out in search of a better life but timing created two completely different outcomes," the "Don't Go Yet" singer, 24, adds. "This realization will always stay with me."

<a href="" data-inlink="true">Camila Cabello</a> border visit
Angela Kohler

Cabello — who immigrated from Cuba at age 6 alongside her mother Sinu — says that giving back to migrants like herself and learning the intricacies of the immigration system has always been important for her and her platform. (Her father Alejandro also immigrated to the U.S. from Mexico.)

"We left everything behind and came to this country with nothing in our pockets but hope for a better life for our family," she says. "For me, part of honoring my family's heritage and our journey as immigrants is finding ways to learn from and support those who may have had similar experiences."

"There are so many articles in the news about policies and crises at the border, but it is important to remember that these are stories about real people," she adds. "Spending time with and hearing the stories of these families and children during our trip was transformational for me."

During her journey to the Caritas shelter in Tijuana, Cabello spoke to immigration activists including those at This Is About Humanity, the Immigration Defenders Law Center and as she learned about the "incredible work" they're doing to advocate for those who are most vulnerable.

At the Caritas Shelter, the former Fifth Harmony star spoke with the non-profit's executive director about the resources that are being provided as they away to receive a case in court and to those who were turned away and deported. The shelter, like many migrant shelters across Mexico, is mostly filled by families with small children.

<a href="" data-inlink="true">Camila Cabello</a> border visit
Angela Kohler

"Many of the people seeking protection at the border right now are families, often moms traveling alone with their young children," explains Lindsay Toczylowski of the Immigrant Defenders Law Center. "A commonality among them is that they are seeking safety for their children in order to give them a fighting chance at a future. So many of the families we are helping have been victims of unspeakable violence, and their resilience to keep fighting for a better future for their children is inspiring."

At the Caritas Shelter, kids can access educational resources at the Yes We Can mobile school.

"Seeing the joy on their faces as we played together was a simple but heartbreaking reminder that they are all just kids," says Cabello. "Kids who want to run around, draw, giggle, and be loved, just like any of our family members. The difference is that these children are forced to deal with incredible challenges and trauma that no child or person should ever have to face."

For Cabello, the trip was a moment to reflect on "where I would be had I been coming to the United States as an immigrant now."

<a href="" data-inlink="true">Camila Cabello</a> border visit
Angela Kohler

"This visit helped me better understand our immigration system and the heartbreaking realities that so many migrants and asylum seekers are facing at our borders," says Cabello. "I am so grateful to the organizations for their incredible work and to all the people who bravely shared their journeys, but I know there are thousands and thousands of similar stories out there."

"There are so many factors that force people into seeking asylum, but regardless of the reason, we should all have empathy for those who are simply trying to build a safe and better life for themselves and their family," she adds.

This Is About Humanity co-founder Elsa Collins accompanied Cabello throughout the trip and explained how many of those leaving their home countries to get into the U.S. are "escaping dangerous conditions and making the hardest decisions to keep their families and children safe."

<a href="" data-inlink="true">Camila Cabello</a> border visit
Angela Kohler

"The issues at the border go beyond the border itself. Children and families fleeing danger and violence is a safety issue. Individuals seeking asylum is a climate issue. Vulnerable communities seeking refuge at the border is a LGBTQ+ humanitarian issue," Collins tells PEOPLE. "We can and should be able to listen to and understand the human stories we are hearing at the border, because we can then center those stories and recognize that this is about human rights."

This Is About Humanity, the organization that accompanied Cabello on the trip, centers on the stories of separated and reunified families at the border to "breathe humanity and empathy" into the issue. It's organizations like this one, then, that help clear misconceptions about those seeking to enter the U.S.

"The idea that they are bringing crime or violence to the US is not only not true, but in many cases these the very things — gang and cartel violence — that they are fleeing from," says Toczylowski. "It's important to see these asylum-seeking families for what they are — families just like our own, in incredibly difficult situations, seeking help in order to save their lives and the lives of their children."

Cabello has been a fierce advocate for immigrants in the past and even dedicated a speech at the 2018 Grammy Awards to Dreamers.

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