Separating migrant children from their parents
In a petition signed by over 13,013 individual mental health professionals, organizations and members of the general public, the writers strongly warn of the psychological damage that is happening as a result of migrant children being separated from their parents when crossing the border. They are calling for Trump and his administration to stop the practice. While helpful and essential, this petition doesn’t go far enough. More needs to be done to address the trauma migrants face, not just after coming to the United States and being separated from their family, but the other trauma that they faced before they arrived.
There are various organizations that are working to help these immigrants with some essential needs, but the offerings fall short of psychological healing also required. Some provide free legal services, others a temporary foster system. Churches contribute shelter and medical services; one charity raises money to fill and distribute backpacks that “contain items such as blankets, pajamas, toiletries, a stuffed animal, a book, a journal and art supplies.” A few of these organizations provide some form of counseling. However, much more needs to be done about the psychological trauma.
Aside from the trauma of just leaving their homes, there are many other causes of post-traumatic stress disorder that migrant children and families face. All are fleeing from some combination of terror, whether long-term poverty, threats or victimization by gangs or corrupt police, violent rape or torture. Trauma begins even before they enter the country. Their need for mental health services is enormous and staggering.
Some might ask how important counseling is if newcomers’ basic physical requirements aren’t being met. Of course, the government needs to provide food and shelter, and it does; but, often the food is rotten and the shelter is a cage. In a setting where physical touch is prohibited between guards and the “residents,” and human beings are denied that essential physical interaction, contact with a caring and listening person could be vital.
One way to help address the trauma of separation is through human physical contact; there are many ways to give this contact in these facilities. Most children cannot effectively communicate or even understand their complex emotions; therefore, play therapy, reading books to a child or coloring are all extremely useful tools. For adults, perhaps having a listening ear or an individual with whom to sit in solidarity and companionship would be helpful. All of this could all be offered on site by local trained practitioners.
Of course, not every practitioner can afford to do pro-bono work, but communities could raise money for qualified counselors who can’t. Training local people who want to develop these skills would also be useful. Some have begun training child advocates “to spend time with and advocate on behalf of an individual unaccompanied immigrant child while he or she is subject to deportation proceedings.” In doing this work we’re not just helping immigrants, we’re strengthening ourselves and our communities by developing more empathy and compassion.
Roxbury Community College student
Building bridges not walls
I recently participated in the School of the Americas Watch Border Encounter in Nogales, Arizona, USA and Nogales, Sonora, Mexico. I did this because I’m very concerned about the struggle and safety of many people who have suffered greatly from violence and poverty in Mexico and Central America. The large exodus from Honduras and El Salvador has made it clear that living there has become deadly and dangerous because of political repression, corruption, disappearances, murders, gangs, and severe poverty.
During the Encounter I learned how US foreign policy, which has long been based on racism, greed, and exploitation, has caused the massive migration north of many people. Legal and illegal sales of arms from the US to Mexico provide plenty of guns and assault weapons. The continuing education of military from Latin America at the School of the Americas at Fort Benning, Georgia and other US military bases in techniques of assassination, counter-insurgency, and torture has led to a long history of violence by its graduates who enjoy great impunity. Closing the School of the Americas would greatly help stop the violence.
I attended a rally at the Milkor Manufacturing plant in Tucson, which sells weapons to Mexico, a vigil at the Eloy for-profit detention center housing thousands of migrants, a concert, and a funeral procession with large puppets. I went to workshops, which included research on stopping the gun trade, legislative advocacy for a just foreign policy, and conversations with the families of the disappeared and murdered.
I saw how the US border is becoming more militarized as the US army installed barbed wire and a second fence along the border to create a restricted space. I learned how the US Border Control has been responsible for many deaths in the Sonoran Desert. Their “chase and scatter” techniques, often using helicopters, have caused migrants to get lost and die. The Border Patrol has also destroyed water and food left for the migrants by humanitarian aid workers. Human remains found in the desert often showed lack of water as a cause of death. I also heard the cries of women who had lost loved ones. My ears still ring from a litany sung to remember over a hundred people found dead in the border area last year.
My time at the border was one of many emotions. I was angered at the policies of my own government. I felt deep sorrow for those who have suffered and been killed. However I also experienced much hope in solidarity with the many other activists, young and old, working to speak truth to power. Many shelters have been set up on both sides of the border to help refugees. I was moved by the way residents of the border area help with food, water, and medical attention. Educating ourselves about what is happening is critical. I cannot claim to be ignorant of the many human rights violations in Latin America and on the border and I feel compelled to work to stop the violence. I would like to see our border as a bridge that connects people, rather than a wall that excludes them. I believe that together we can do this.