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    What Can We Do to Help Support Refugee Resettlement in the United States?

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    With the recent change in administration, many questions remain in regard to the potential policy changes that may affect refugees being resettled in the United States, and have already started to affect refugees.

    Most notable the executive orders that have been recently signed will have an impact on the number of refugees being received, the countries we will accept refugees from, as well as a proposed suspension of any refugee resettlement for 120 days.

    This comes largely as a result of the negative rhetoric that came out of the campaign from various candidates, but most notably from the President elect. We have an obligation to educate the public on who refugees really are, to advocate for and defend policies to resettle refugees in the United States, and to support refugees that are arriving or are already here.

    Refugees arriving in the United States are a diverse group, including those from Iraq, Syria, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Somalia, Bhutan, and Burma. The commonality among these individuals is that they are all fleeing due to a, “well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group” as defined by the United Nations.

    They represent many different religious backgrounds, languages and cultures. Welcoming refugees is woven in the fabric of our history and culture, with the first refugee legislation enacted in 1948. Over three million refugees have been resettled since 1975 from 70 countries around the world.

    The United States has welcomed refugees fleeing Europe as a result of World War II, refugees escaping the former Soviet Union, those who came as a result of the war in Vietnam, Cubans, those from the former Yugoslavia as well as the more recent arrivals previously mentioned.

    While refugees are welcomed primarily for humanitarian reasons they also bring benefits to the community they are being resettled in. Firstly, refugees contribute to their local communities economically. They are eager to work, and have been shown to retain their jobs longer than native born individuals. Many refugees have an entrepreneurial spirit and are more likely to start their own businesses.

    Aside from that, in some cities that have lost population or that have aging populations, refugees are viewed as not only adding population but also contributing to the economy and enriching the community by sharing their culture. This has been seen in cities like Pittsburgh, Baltimore and Rutland, Vermont who is making a concerted effort to welcome refugees. Refugees should be viewed as resilient for having survived
    unimaginable circumstances.

    What can social workers or those interested in supporting refugees do to help? Firstly, let your opinions be known to your elected representatives. Policy action is the crucial to maintain the existing resettlement programs. Secondly, support resettlement agencies and refugees in your community. Make your city a ‘welcoming’ community for those who are newly arriving. This may mean training police, schools and social service agencies on who refugees are and being prepared to provide culturally appropriate services. Furthermore, donate to your local resettlement agency.

    Many resettlement agencies may be in need of gently used furniture and clothing for newly arriving refugees. Resettlement agencies are also in need of volunteers to help set-up apartments, as well as helping refugees to learn life skills like taking the bus or tutoring them in English. If you are a business owner, hire a refugee. Employment is crucial for newly arriving refugees to integrate into their new communities.

    Finally, educate others on who refugees are and why it is important to maintain this program. Refugees are not a traditional population that social work or social workers tend to focus on and this should change. Supporting refugees is an issue of social justice—refugee resettlement saves lives. In no other case is this more apparent than of those fleeing Syria, as the war continues to rage with no end in sight. Yet the United States has been slow to accept these refugees and is now proposing effectively ending resettlement of Syrians. In stark contrast to this are the Canadians who met their goal of resettling 25,000 Syrian refugees last year.

    We need to mobilize to defend the integrity of this program and affirm that this is a key social justice issue for social workers to focus their efforts on.

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    Elizabeth Ringler-Jayanthan is a licensed social worker and a Trauma Sensitive Yoga Facilitator (TCTSY-F) in Pittsburgh, Pa where she works as a trauma therapist at a rape crisis center. She has worked extensively with survivors of forced migration including refugees, asylum seekers and survivors of human trafficking. She is a graduate of the Global Mental Health Certificate Program with the Harvard Program in Refugee Trauma (HPRT). She is passionate about issues related to social justice including animal welfare and the environment.

    Human Rights

    Abortion Laws, Feminism, Politics, and Neoliberal Societies in Developed Nations

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    Re-conceptualizing restrictive abortion laws with a sex equality framework allow us to identify the limitations of women living in developed nations to act in a free manner with their physical bodies as men do. On many occasions, rules, regulations, and laws are enforced to reduce chaos/harm, but the same is similarly used to limit the freedoms of the individual which can also be oppressive in itself.

    Historically, anti-abortive attitudes were prominent and common due to societies ignorance of scientific knowledge surrounding an embryo. Often when a pregnancy was declared, the fetus had already grown to a more formed stage which made abortion seem more of inhumane act. Early feminists radically opposed abortion claiming it was “child murder” that exploited both women and children. The core of the radical feminist’s argument was to ‘protect women at the embryonic stage’, hence leading to the anti-pro choice view.

    Today, the attitudes of radical feminists have progressed to campaigning to eliminate the ‘root causes’ which drives women to abortion such as providing access to free childcare, financial support and enabling access to practical resources. Modern feminism has not adopted the ‘extreme’ stances of the past which have led to tensions within feminist communities. Depending on the feminist spectrum, some radical feminists believe motherhood is an obligation of womanhood while others may renounce the obligation of motherhood despite being financially and resource able to do so.

    Modern feminism is defined in a variety of ways which is then filtered through our many lived experiences. One of the most basic and foundational definitions of feminism is the “advocacy of women’s rights on the grounds of the equality of sexes”. The origins of the feminism began in the 1950s as a movement in the USA inspired by Betty Friendan’s book, The Feminine Mystique, which inspired women to pursue goals of freedom and autonomy.

    The feminist anti-abortion arguments come with a variety of justifications for its campaigns – religious (when does life begin?); scientific (damaging a females body?); conservative (securing the future of mankind); power (forcing restrictive laws on women to exert power and control, potentially for political grounds).

    Let us contextualize some of the laws in developed nations where women are forced to abide by policies informed by these anti-abortion justifications:

    El Salvador – Illegal under every circumstance (rape, ill physical and mental health. Women can be jailed for up to a decade for performing the procedure. It is noted that low-income women who have miscarriages and stillbirths may be prosecuted due to being wrongly accused of abortion or homicide (White-Lebhar, 2018).

    Alabama, United States of America – Illegal under every circumstance. What is concerning about this case though, is that it was only just voted in (last month), meaning that the senator they have in office today, have these views.

    Northern Ireland – Illegal under every circumstance (including a result of rape). Medical professionals are afraid to provide their candid opinions about the health of the pregnant female and/or the fetus due to repercussions.

    Under further examination, these laws celebrate a lack of individualization and are enforced by these powerful societal structures. Women are forced to adhere to laws derived from cultural and/or religious values in which they may not believe or practice. As Social Workers, our ethical practices use a person-centered approach with a systematic theoretical underpinning of self-determination for those we serve.

    This approach applauds the unique and individual dynamic in one’s life and that these dynamics are even more special when they interact with their environment (person-in-context). No one person’s issue is perceived or dealt with in the same manner – social work theory acknowledges these humanistic values yet, we are forced to operate in neoliberal societies where under resourced service providers do not have the capacity and flexibility to approach each client uniquely.

    Our role working within the abortion context means we can advocate change on multiple levels – through therapeutic supporting (counselling); by advocating for policy changes by sparking dynamic public discourse (policy); educating generations of women on abortion in an impartial manner (education) and much more. Our perspectives on the matter, and with feminism itself, comes from the top down – our attitudes are shaped by the leaders we have, whether they conflict or reflect our beliefs.

    Relieving restrictions surrounding abortion isn’t only about the freedom of choice for women, it’s also an opportunity to examine and identify where first world nations fall short in imploring the sense of freedom we so frequently advertise to eastern societies and third world nations. Developed nations are allowing powerful politics driven by strong single-sided opinions often funded by the wealthiest ten percent of the world decide about life, death, family, and women health decisions.

    There are no solidified answers on what restrictive abortion laws mean for women and feminism – whether regressive or progressive for the feminist movement. Whether we identify with feminism and all that it embodies or not, we are ultimately shaped by the societal constructs we were influenced by in our youth and our family values. However, context changes through life experience and transcultural immersions. Therefore, we must evolve individually and collectively.

    Our society is ever changing in this way and essentially to be progressive on these fronts, decision making regarding policy should evolve towards being free of judgment, opinions, religion, and power – thinking about individual lives at the core is crucial. Some may view this perspective as idealistic, especially in countries where government structures have the funds to create change, but government money is alternatively utilized to support the community as a whole with supports mainstreamed, directly conflicting with the individualistic nature of social work approaches.

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    Human Rights

    A Call to Action for Social Workers! The Time is Now to ELEVATE

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    As we recognize March as Social Work Month, let’s awaken that original passion in each other and build on our strengths and core social work values to make change and lead the way for others to do so as well.

    My fellow social workers, the time is now to lead the way for our nation regarding human rights and human well-being. The shocking cruelty and violation of human rights that occur each day in our nation under the current administration not only violates our Code of Ethics, but is cruel, unjust, and the epitome of what we as social workers dedicate our lives to fight against—socialinjustice.

    We cannot risk becoming desensitized to any injustice, despite hearing about a new, abhorrent policy, practice or incident, every day. Let’s channel our frustration into collective action because this is our domain. We are the experts of social welfare, and we are uniquely trained to recognize social injustice and empower individuals, families, organizations, and communities toward positive social change.

    It’s what we do every day as social workers. Since we know how to do this, we should be leading the way. This social work month lets ELELVATE our dedication and translate it into collective action for social justice. I believe that in doing so, we honor of the many pioneer social workers who have blazed the trail for us and worked to give us many of the rights we now enjoy.

    Every day I am in awe of our society and our government’s attitudes and policies toward the most vulnerable people in our society. Racism, anti-Semitism, sexism and homophobia seem to be increasing at alarming rates (or perhaps are just more acceptably overt now) and this is resulting in more violence, conflict, and division among families and communities.

    To me, that constitutes an emergency. Children are being legally separated from their parents, put in cages, often abused or neglected and “lost” by our government. If that isn’t an emergency, I’m not sure what is. Banning PEOPLE from serving in the military, sending refugees back to their country of origin to face certain death, and women’s reproductive rights at risk are all emergencies to me.

    What do you think? What constitutes a national emergency to you? Whatever you answer, the good news is that we know how to deal with crisis as social workers and are bound together by social workvalues. So, let’s do it. Someone has to, and why not us—this is our domain. Plus, we have a lot of professional strengths to build on.

    For example:

    • We know how to build on strengths.
    • We know how to organize.
    • We know how to educate.
    • We know how to build bridges, not walls.
    • We know how to empower individuals, families, organization, and communities.
    • We understand human rights and human dignity.
    • We know how to advocate on micro through macro levels.
    • We know how to push through when we are tired because people’s lives depend on us.
    • We understand human behavior more than most.
    • We know how to critique social policy.
    • We know how to conduct research and translate it into practice.
    • We know how to problem solve and are used to complex problems.
    • We value diversity and we know how to celebrate it.

    As a social work educator, I have the privilege of working with budding social workers every day. Their passion for social justice is raw and strong. However, as some seasoned social workers know, that passion may not go away, but it may grow tired, and frustrated by red tape, high case-loads and lack of support.

    My fellow social workers, I ask you to ask yourself: How do you want to use your unique innate gifts and your professional skills as a social worker to help our nation awaken to the humanity of others? We cannot let human suffering being the norm or be a line item on news that people shake their head to and go on about their day. Jane Addams would not approve.

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    Human Rights

    Increased Inmate Deaths and the Lack of Accountability

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    Sandra Bland

    One year after the death of Sandra Bland on July 13, 2015, the Huffington Post compiled a list of persons who died in jail. In the following twelve month period, there were 811 deaths, most of which were the result of suicide. In fact, 253 detainees committed suicide in the year after Sandra’s death, constituting 31% of all fatalities.

    This heartbreaking statistic highlights a historical pattern; one of racial targeting and classism, poor management, health care oversight, and corruption. The criminal justice system fails our communities by allowing preventable inmate deaths while targeting the most vulnerable communities. These alarming trends in our prisons, jails, and juvenile detention centers have us wondering, why?

    Experts examining suicide and death in our nation’s jails reveal disturbing trends across the most vulnerable communities. A recent New York Times article, for example, Preventing Suicide in America’s Jails, reveals in 2013 a total of 967 jail inmates died while detained in local corrections facilities. This statistic continued to grow the year after, even though the inmate population declined by 4%. Other authors and researchers cite poor management, inadequate health care, and perfunctory oversight as major culprits. Although these issues go mostly unresolved, they continue to institute a pattern of death and suicide.

    Reasons Behind Inmate Deaths

    Many jail fatalities are overlooked and underreported. Generally, jails are not required to disclose fatalities occurring within their facility to their community. Even the most egregious incarceration centers can go unnoticed by the community at large when they aren’t being held accountable for deaths occurring in their own institutions.

    Different from prison, jail stays are shorter (approximately 21 days) and most of the inmates have yet to be sentenced. Jail inmates could also be under the influence of drugs, alcohol, or have mental or physical health issues that correctional staff might be unaware of. For these reasons, many jail suicides occur in the first week of incarceration as indicated below by the Prison Policy Initiative.

    According to KyCIR’s reports in Kentucky’s Grant County Jail, rampant corruption, employee incompetence, ineffective staff preparation, and inmate maltreatment were all present in the jail’s culture. In an environment where accountability is minimal, inmates are more likely to be disregarded and mistreated, as is the case of Danny Ray Burden at Grant County Jail.

    “Danny Ray Burden fell asleep mid-sentence as he was booked into the Grant County jail, toppling over on the bench where he sat. Prodded awake, he coughed, shook and pleaded for emergency medical attention. A blood test showed that the 41-year-old diabetic badly needed insulin. Instead of assisting with proper medical standards and medications, deputies put Danny Ray in a cell, where he was found unconscious just three hours after he had entered the jail on March 27, 2013. He died a week later.”

    Reflecting on the data, including the specific cases of Sandra Bland and Danny Ray Burden, who is at risk for jail fatality?

    Vulnerable groups at correctional facilities include:

    • Persons booked for lesser crimes
    • Those without financial resources who are unable to post bond
    • Communities of color who are profiled by police and often receive harsher punishments
    • Sex offenders and those accused of vicious crimes

    Why Death by Suicide?

    For inmates whose lives were previously difficult, a brief jail sentence could prove traumatic. The most at-risk inmates may be experiencing withdrawal symptoms, a lack of access to prescriptions, and/or low availability of medical or mental health services. An inmate with a troubled emotional, mental, or physical state of inmates suffers even more while imprisoned, especially when our system neglects their basic needs.

    Correctional facility detainees may have anxiety about unemployment, broken relationships, loss of residence, healthcare, or the inability to care for children. Without financial resources, these issues are compounded by the inability to pay a bond. And for black inmates, especially those in the 18 to 29-year age range, accruing considerably greater bail amounts than their peers in other racial groups isn’t uncommon.

    Suicide Prevention Strategies for Correctional Facilities

    In Matti Hautala’s article In the Shadow of Sandra Bland: The Importance of Mental Health Screening in U.S. Jails, the author examines the multifaceted environment of our American jail system and garners evidence-based recommendations for inmate suicide prevention.

    The author suggests the initial entry procedure, including the preliminary psychological evaluation, acclimates the inmate to the criminal justice environment. This experience could have a lasting impact on the immediate future for that inmate; although alternative programs such as parole, probation, or mental health courts are recommended. Community supervision, rather than incarceration, is especially effective for those with psychological or mental health issues. Further recommendations include:

    • Psychological evaluation instruments and qualified evaluators
    • Proper procedures regarding medical records and treatment
    • Limiting the use of restraint and isolation
    • Frequent visual follow-ups, every 15 minutes, with suicidal or homicidal inmates.

    The gross lack of culpability by local and state corrections personnel and increasing inmate deaths calls for advocacy and reform. Social workers, helping professionals, and concerned citizens must engage our political and community leaders in evidence-based dialogue and program development to reduce the number of inmate fatalities in our nation’s correctional facilities.

    By engaging with our local communities and representatives, together, we can hold our system accountable. We can force our jail and correctional facilities to say “mea culpa!” and reform our policies to prevent tragic and unnecessary death.

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