Imagine being ripped apart from the home, the only home you may know and separated from your friends, loved ones and everything you know. Imagine not knowing whether you may be able to continue an education and pursue a profession you have worked hard towards achieving and you have dreamed of all your life. Imagine being afraid to step out of your house to go to work or do simple tasks because of the fear of being deported. Imagine feeling like there is a segment of the population that may not want you around.
Thousands of immigrants do not have to imagine this. This has been their everyday experience since a new President took office and threatened to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), a program that has allowed certain group of immigrants –young immigrants known as dreamers—who are undocumented the opportunity to obtain a work permit and avoid deportation. To date, approximately 800,000 people have obtained DACA, which has meant they have continued their education, joined the workforce, invested in homes, cars and have been able to live their lives out of the shadows.
On September 5, the President turned back his promise to act with “a heart” when it comes to dealing with dreamers and announced the end of a program that had given hope, health, opportunities, and life to thousands. Trump has put a significant segment of our community at risk. He could have saved it and even extended, but he didn’t. Instead of delegating this task to Congress and giving them until March 5, 2018 to come up with an alternate legislation, President Trump’s decision to rescind DACA is leaving many wondering and in dire fear.
DACA was more than a program that benefited just immigrants, it was a program that had proven to benefit our nation as a whole; economically—DACA beneficiaries paid taxes ($1.2 billion annually in federal, state and local tax revenue to be exact according to the Institute of Taxation and Economic Policy) and have paid dues to obtain and renew DACA surpassing $400,000,000 in revenue; professionally, thanks to the program, talent was added to our workforce—DACA beneficiaries are doctors, business owners, lawyers, teachers, therapists, engineers, students and impact every fabric of our society.
They are our neighbors, colleagues, friends, relatives, and in many cases our clients. DACA recipients came to the United States as children before they were 16 years old and have grown up holding the United States as the only country they know.
Oge Okereke came to the United States in 1999 from Nigeria to seek medical treatment after being involved in a traumatic fire. As a child not knowing much about the system, she overstayed her visa. Oge didn’t realize she was undocumented until she was ready to apply for college. Then the cruel reality hit. She was denied from many colleges due to her status.
Despite her circumstances, she was determined to pursue her college education so she worked hard and saved for college. She proceeded to start her education at a junior college and years later she holds a Master’s degree in nursing as a family nurse practitioner and she is currently pursuing post master’s degree in psychiatry. How can we as a nation tell someone like Oge that she doesn’t belong here? When she and others are selflessly given back in monumental ways.
As social workers, we know that anything that threatens the wellbeing and livelihood of our communities, it becomes an issue that impacts our profession and our country. As our National Association of Social Workers (NASW) Code of Ethics indicates the primary mission of our profession is to enhance the human well-being of all people, help meet basic needs and empower individuals.
When we entered this profession, we did so under an obligation to uphold a core set of values of service, social justice, dignity and worth of the person, importance of human relationships, and integrity which are the foundation our code of ethics is built on.
Protecting dreamers and providing them with the opportunities they have earned is more than an immigration issue. It’s a human issue, a health and mental health issue. Since the election, direct care providers have seen a rise in anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.Together, there is much we can do to fight this important battle. Here are a few ideas:
There is much we can do to fight this important battle together, and here are just a few ideas:
Create healing spaces for DACA recipients.
If you are a trained social worker, providing healing and relief spaces through support groups in your community will be essential to promote community health. Support groups are a great way to stretch our services and it promotes shared learning among participants. If you don’t have a venue to do a group within your setting, consider partnering with your local church, direct services nonprofit or a local immigration organization. To learn about local DACA group near you visit United We Dream.
Provide pro bono or discounted counseling.
There are mental health needs that are not able to be addressed in groups but there are very scarce mental health services for people who are uninsured including immigrants who are undocumented. If you are trained to provide clinical services, have the credentials for it, and your setting allows you to, consider creating a special rate or pro bono hours for individual therapy.
If you do not work at a setting that allows for pro bono hours, consider joining a pro bono project in your community. There are several states that have created pro bono mental health projects such as The Pro Bono Counseling Project that serves DC metro area residents or The Coalition for Immigrant Mental Health in Illinois, currently recruiting pro bono therapists to serve dreamers.
A google search may lead you to a pro bono counseling project near you. You can also join associations like Open Path Therapy, where therapists who join network agree to charge clients between $30 and $50 per session.
Whichever route you decide to go, make sure that what you offer is visible and well known to community members. I am mindful that providing pro bono hours is a tall order, especially when many of us already have full caseloads and are over stretched, but imagine the impact of each of us providing 30 minutes to 1 hour of pro bono time per week for an individual session—all that we can we accomplish together. These are times to think creatively, reassess how we accomplish our tasks and maximize impact.
Activate your social work affiliated organizations.
As a social worker, you may be a member of social work organizations that hold a lot of influence. If you haven’t seen your affiliated organization release a statement supporting dreamers, I encourage you to reach out to them. As members, you have the right to have issues you care about represented by these organizations.
Join organizations and actions to support dreamers.
Several organizations are engaged in the fight to protect dreamers and fight for comprehensive immigration reform. Weareheretostay.org includes latest events, information for dreamers and a mental health kit. Dreamacttoolkit.org features direct actions that you can participate in. Undocuhealing.org also features healing and wellness resources geared towards immigrants who are undocumented. Other organizations to follow are DefineAmerican.com, Fwd.us, ReformImmigrationforAmerica.org.
Share your support in social media.
If you are in social media, let your networks know that you are a social worker that stands with dreamers. Use hashtags: #defenddaca #heretostay #socialwork
Your hard-earned dollars can go a long way. To renew DACA before the expiration date, dreamers have a short window to come up $495 for the renewal fee. Find an organization or fundraising effort supporting dreamers to pay this fee. Here is one of the several efforts to support dreamers. The aimed to raise $35,000 and have raised over $50,000 to date.
No matter what you decide to do, show up! Show up in a way that honors our social work values, our community and yourself.
Cheryl Aguilar is a licensed clinical social worker, LICSW, LCSW-C, founder and lead therapist of Hope Center for Wellness, LLC, a multicultural behavioral health and training consulting practice serving DC metro area residents and organizations. She founded and co-leads Social Workers United for Immigration, a DC based network of social workers committed to the well-being and the advancement of immigrants and immigrant rights. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.