As of May 6th, 2018, new harsher immigration policies have been implemented with the sole intention of instilling terror to act as a deterrent to other immigrants attempting to enter the United States, regardless of the reason. This comes as a result of “zero tolerance” policies enacted under Jeff Sessions.
Sadly the most vulnerable, the children, are impacted the greatest by this policy when they are now being routinely separated from their parents at the border while the parents of these children are being portrayed as criminals and being called animals by the President of the United States.
Kirstjen Nielsen has equated their attempt to enter the United States as the same as an individual that breaks into your home and has their child taken away as a result. The reality is far different. While a large number of individuals come because of economic push factors many of the individuals entering, particularly those with children, are fleeing violence and are legally seeking asylum in the United States for themselves and their children.
One woman from Honduras described the heart-wrenching experience of giving her 18 month old son to immigration authorities, and even strapping him in his car seat for them, despite following the proper protocol in presenting herself to immigration authorities to seek asylum. More than 600 children have already been separated from their parents in the first few weeks since the new policies were enacted.
Even before these new policies were officially implemented, there was another case several months ago involving a woman from Congo and her child who were separated at the border for four months, despite passing a credible fear test, and were later reunited as a result of a lawsuit filed by the ACLU.
These immigration policies are meant to maximize suffering of those entering the country in order to act as a deterrent to future immigrants. This is in stark contrast to our values as a country, as well as our legal responsibilities.
The American Bar Association has condemned this new policy, citing increased inefficiency in the immigration court system as well as the psychological trauma of separating children from their parents. Sadly, many of the policies surrounding immigration have been archaic and draconian even before these new changes, including toddlers representing themselves in immigration court unless they have the ability to pay for a lawyer.
As social workers, we know the impact of early childhood adversity, and the NASW has spoken out against this new zero tolerance policy. Many of these children have faced great adversity prior to coming to the United States including witnessing or experiencing physical and sexual violence, living under threat due to violence in their communities, or being targeted specifically because of who they are—aside from the possible trauma experienced on their journey to the United States.
Research demonstrates the incredible resiliency of children in being able to bounce back from adversity, and one crucial component to that is in having one stable adult in their lives. This current immigration policy seeks to traumatize the families and potentially takes away the one resiliency factor the children have.
What can we do to help? There are several agencies that are working to help this population that you can connect to. It is crucial to apply pressure on elected representatives and vote in upcoming elections.
Most importantly, we must fight against the notion that it is ok to dehumanize immigrants.
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.