The Untold Migration Story – How Improved Policies Can Benefit Both Receiving And Sending Societies

From the U.S. travel ban to the rise of anti-immigrant populists in Europe, politicians often decry migration in times of moral and economic crisis. Controversies can easily preclude a balanced understanding of what migration means – not only for immigrants and their new societies, but also for the places migrants leave behind.

Recent waves of migration from Africa and the Middle East are related not only to civil wars but also to unprecedented changes in climate and the environments where people live. Migrants often risk their lives when they step into a boat or take their first step into a desert in search of opportunity. Their stories spark heated debates in the media and in the public arena about who these people are and what the future holds for them. Politicians use them as bargaining chips in domestic negotiations and international collaborations. But for every immigrant who makes it to the Mediterranean Sea or to the tightening borders of Europe, there are hundreds who do not make it and will stay behind. Their stories are never told, and their struggles are often forgotten amid discussions about those who actually can migrate.

Migration and Climate Change

When people migrate as respond to climate change, it is generally assumed that things go even worse for the people who stay behind. In most cases this is true. People who stay behind face major changes in their livelihood — when agricultural yields go down, sea-levels go up, and severe weather threatens the life and health of all those who cannot afford to leave.

Sometimes, however, there are delightful twists to this doomsday scenario. When climate changes, skilled and educated people are usually the ones who can afford to migrate. The economies they leave behind are in increasingly dire need of skilled labor. In my research, I show that migration can actually help those remaining behind by creating strong incentives for them to develop skills. Unfortunately, this narrative is often left out of the immigration debate. Migration may not only be beneficial for those who leave, but more so for those who stay behind.

When more fortunate people leave a community to migrate in search of opportunities, others often look up to them in search of better life – for their children, even if they cannot afford it for themselves.

Modeling Migration

To study the impact of climate change on migration and population dynamics, I develop an overlapping generations model that considers two economic sectors: agriculture and industry. I also model two types of individuals: high skilled and low skilled. This allows me to study the impact of climate change not only on each sector but also on the parental decisions about the number of children to have and the quality of education provided to them. My results shed light on several aspects of climate change migration that are usually overlooked in migration debates and academic studies:

  • High-skilled labor migration can create greater demand for higher education in the origin society.
  • High-skilled labor migration can induce a rise in low-skilled wages and therefore help close the inequality gap in communities that remain.
  • To maximize benefits at both ends of a migration stream, merit-based policies on the receiving end that favor skilled immigrants should be coupled with improved educational program at the sending end.

Migration is a powerful adaptation mechanism but it has its limitations. The impacts of climate change on the origin country can be only moderately alleviated – not abolished – when people choose to leave. Therefore, migration policies need to be carefully designed to bring most benefits for both sending and receiving countries.

Toward Improved Migration Policies in an Era of Climate Change

My work shows that migration has possible benefits for migrants’ origin countries, including by encouraging more people to strive for education. But motivations alone are not enough to break the “trap” and free local communities from suffering the severe impact of climate change. The international community, and host countries in particular, have moral obligations to climate-affected communities where many people will remain who cannot afford to migrate.

  • Migration policies should be eased for skilled and educated immigrants – for instance, with more student visas and work permits. But even when it becomes easier for skilled people to migrate, only a small fraction of those who could migrate will actually do so. Of course, sending communities can face problems even when just a fraction of their most skilled people leave. But at the same time, those communities can gain by encouraging education and drawing new people into jobs that require knowledge and skill.
  • The perspective I offer here implies that migration policies should be discussed and coordinated between sending and receiving countries. Unilateral polices do not work; often, for example, restrictions at the receiving end simply lead to the rise of human smuggling networks. Receiving societies could do better by facilitating the migration of qualified applicants – and at the same time working with the sending countries to improve investments in education and economic wellbeing for those who do not migrate.

Read more in Soheil Shayegh, “Outward Migration May Alter Population Dynamics and Income Inequality” Nature Climate Change 7 (October 2017): 828–832

Emotions and Politics: Our Role to Undo Damage of Hateful Politics

Photo Credit: Common Sense Media

When I first read the news about four Congresswomen being told by the President of this nation to go back to the countries they came from, my heart sunk and I had a huge knot in my stomach. The image of every kid I have ever worked with and still work with and children I know, immediately with came to my mind—US born kids of color, kids who are immigrants —who could internalize the President’s comments as not belonging or deserving to be in this country. Those whose self-esteem, self-worth and sense of self could be damaged as well as the kids and adults who could replicate the President’s behavior and become bullies at school, work or their communities, something we have seen since he took center stage during the 2016 election cycle.

The night I heard a group of people at one of Trump’s rally chant “send her back,” referring to Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, I thought of a group of kids between 6 and 12 years old who were part of a mental health psychoeducation group I co-led, who during the 2016 election cycle had displayed symptoms of anxiety and depression over what they were hearing the new President could do to their families.

I vividly remembered the fear they expressed after President Trump had been elected, of their parents being sent home. I wondered what these children would think and feel if they heard those comments to the Congresswomen by the President and by the chanters. I wanted them to know they belong, they are loved, they matter, our diversity matters and there are many more people who love them and welcome them than others who may not.

For many of us who have been told to “go back to your country or where you belong,” there has been incredible pain we have had to overcome over feelings of not belonging, feelings of confusion, frustration, isolation, and insecurity, among others.

Twenty-four years ago, while in high school and after migrating from Honduras, I was told this phrase over and over again. Back then, I didn’t quite understand the charged meaning of that phrase but the manner, and anger the person displayed when she told me to go back said it all and it evoked a feeling of not being welcomed. It didn’t feel good, it felt threatening and I was terrified to go to school.

Luckily, I had a supportive family to go back to, other friends who looked and sounded like me and many others who expressed welcoming feelings, care and kindness. I rose above those comments, made it through high school and by the end of high school the person who had bullied me wrote a kind message on my yearbook noting that she was glad she had gotten to know me. When I was finally able to understand why someone would say something so hurtful, I came to realize that my former classmate had learned that behavior.

To hear this same racist rhetoric, two decades later by no other than the President, a figure who should symbolize a positive role model and exemplify the American values of unity, acceptance, tolerance, collaboration, inclusiveness, was astonishing, disappointing and infuriating.

The President’s Tweets reminded me of the long work we still have ahead to educate communities on topics like our right to protest as an American freedom, our right to advocate and elevate our voices when we disagree on policies, our rights as women to stand up from the sidelines and be a part of political discourse.

We have our work cut out to gain our democracy back, a democracy where we can both love our country and being an American but still denounce policies we disagree with. This election cycle let our fear and anger fuel our fire to fight for a new and inclusive leader, one that welcomes difference of opinion without attacking, bullying, minimizing and threatening those who oppose him, a leader who is not a threat to our democracy and the values we are teaching our children, a leader who we proudly want our kids to emulate.

Now, part of our role is undoing the emotional damage the Presidents politics of hate has created, particularly with our kids who are shaping their views and behaviors based on what they learn at home, school, their environments, and media. Our role is going back to the essential dinner conversations at home to understand what kids are saying, thinking about and how they may be internalizing and interpreting the information they hear in the news. Kids and adolescents depend on us to make sense and meaning out of information. As long as we are having conversations and checking in, we can create opportunities to debunk myths and misinformation.

For the rest of us, it is more important than ever before to be in community; to take to the streets, to advocate and organize when necessary while taking care of our own emotional wellbeing and seeking support from a professional when the politics of hate and division impact our mental health.

Call to Action

This petition is a collaboration between Social Workers United for Immigration and Social Workers Unraveling Racism with contributions by Hope Center for Wellness, Gardner Associates, and the support of Social Work Helper, Latin American Youth Center, American Federation of Teachers, Undocublack Network,  and CASA. The petition was part of a week long campaign of mandated reporters denouncing government child abuse and demanding action.

Please sign and/or share our petition located at http://chng.it/dc2HnCQNT5. Please, take this small step to help us make a difference.

Emotions and Politics: A Social Work Response to the Mental Health of Immigrants

Some of my clients have called their immigration journey, the immigration nightmare. One noted, “everyone talks about the American dream but nobody talks about the American nightmare.” This nightmare has become a real every day experience for many of them.

Children crying and terrified after a stranger, an immigration agent, separates them from their parents when they arrive at the US border. Young adults living in limbo in a life that feels uncertain to them, not knowing whether in a few years they will continue working where they are or studying their university programs because of the nature of their temporary Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).

Parents worrying that if they get deported to their countries of origin their children will become foster kids because they will have to make a hard choice to leave them behind in the United States rather than to bring them back to countries plagued by violence, poverty, and hunger. Scholar and social worker Dr. Luis H. Zayas refers to these children, impacted by immigration policies of family separations, as the forgotten citizens.

These are just of the few stories that represent the plight that immigrants who are undocumented or have temporary status face in the United States. In the last year, we have seen increased political efforts to seize migration and punish immigrants who chose to migrate in the only way they could, creating feelings of insecurity, trauma, depression among community members affected by these policies.

As social workers, it’s crucial we become well-versed on the challenges that existing immigrants and a new generation of newcomers face and that we follow our National Association of Social Workers (NASW) code of ethics to support them and treat them with dignity and worth of a person regardless of how they arrived to this country, nor our political views.

Going Beyond the Headlines, Facts about Immigration

Over the last year, we have been inundated with countless stories of immigrants arriving in record numbers through the Mexican border. Some of the media stories have focused on the illegality of migrating through the border; other outlets have reported on the reasons why immigrants are knocking on our doors but with little emphasis on why immigrants “choose” to come through the border. Reasons for coming include fleeing violence, political unrest, and persecution among others.

From testimonials of lawyers, service providers, and human and immigrant’s rights organizations who are working profusely on the ground at border towns, we know that most of the immigrants who are arriving can qualify as refugees. Noting this difference is important because refugees seeking asylum have a right to seek asylum in the United States and have certain protections. The UN Refugee Agency defines refugee as “someone who has been forced to flee his or her country because of persecution, war or violence. A refugee has a well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group. Most likely, they cannot return home or are afraid to do so. War and ethnic, tribal and religious violence are leading causes of refugees fleeing their countries,” (UN Refugee Agency, 2019).

We often hear questions like “Why can’t they come the right away?” or “They need to get in line?” The reality is that our immigration system is broken. To come to the United States legally, individuals have to either have a family member who is a Citizen or US Resident petition for them, or be sponsored by an employer through a work visa, most employment visas are usually for high skilled workers, or apply to a lottery system, for the “lucky” opportunity to obtain a visa. It sounds simple, right? Just apply and you should be fine. Not so much!

There is a restriction of the numbers of visas granted each year. According to the Migration Policy Institute, there are about 140,000 work visas per year and family sponsored preferences are limited to 226,000 visas per year. There are currently two types of backlogs impacting the issuance of US Resident cards, which allows people to come to the United States and stay permanently.

“The first is due to visa availability, not enough to go around and meet the demand. The second is due to processing delays of applicants’ documents. A brief illustration of that is that in February 2019, the U.S. government was still processing some family-sponsored visa applications dating to August 1995, and some employment-related visa applications from August 2007,” (Migration Policy Institute, 2019).

This means that a mother who is concerned that gang members have infiltrated her neighborhood, and are looking to extort her each month for a sum of money that she does not have or she and her family will be killed, who may not have a US Resident or Citizen family member or an employer to sponsor her, has no other way to enter the United States as a refugee seeking asylum. She and scores of others do not have another choice.

Clinical Implications

When working with immigrants is important to remember that while there are some similarities in the immigration journey for some, not two stories are alike. This is our opportunity to allow the client to be the expert of their story and have them guide us in their experience.

Community members who are in the United States without an immigration status or a temporary status or are seeking status may face many challenges as they adjust to a new environment or simply work towards surviving it. But their distress or trauma may not be new or their first trauma. Clinical psychologist Dr. Cecilia J. Falicov reminds us of the pre-trauma, during trauma and post-trauma immigrants can experience during their journey. Trauma sometimes begins before people leave their countries of origin. Understanding what their experience was prior to coming to the United States is critical during clinical or initial assessment or throughout work with clients.

Immigrants may experience trouble with acculturation, getting used to new norms, traditions, food, and language. Most importantly and often overlooked is the grief and loss they may experience for having left (or lost) a place they knew, friends, family members and things they are familiar to.

Aside from the trauma, kids who are separated from their parents may experience, attachment to their parent or caregiver may suffer, making it harder for them to have a healthy reunification at a later time.

Furthermore, immigrants may face discrimination, racial profiling or bullying in their community, at work or school, which can lead to stigma about immigration status or passing to hide their immigration status. They can experience abuse at work or exploration, such as earning low wages while working long hours. Perpetrators of abuse can threaten victims who are undocumented to call immigration authorities on them. Often times victims do not call for help out of fear of being deported and what they may not know is that there are actually certain protections for victims of violence or crime who are undocumented.

Immigrants may realize the limitations of their immigration status such as not being able to obtain driving licenses (some states do grant licenses to immigrants who are undocumented), not being able to obtain in-state tuition (some states have passed in-state tuition laws for students who are undocumented), not being able to travel and little or no access to services, resources or benefits.

These and other challenges can lead to depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which are the three main diagnoses that impact immigrants. And media news about immigration policies that may impact their life may exuberate symptoms.

While someone’s immigration status can represent a social determinant of health, not all immigrants want to address challenges regarding their status in their work with social workers right away or sometimes ever. Teenage immigrants sometimes just want to talk about dating; parents want to talk about parenting, DACA recipients want to talk about their dreams and aspirations. We must be mindful and respect the client’s self-determination and not impose our own agenda to address what we think the client “should” address and meet the client where they are at in their journey.

The Social Work Response
I propose a comprehensive approach to meeting the needs of our immigrant clients composed of clinical, psychoeducation or supportive services, mezzo (support groups) and advocacy. In my work with immigrant clients whose goal is to address their distress connected to their immigration status, I use a psychoeducational, skills building and processing approach where I incorporate:

Psychoeducation on the impact of politics in everyday life such as anxiety, depression, and PTSD; identifying feelings, emotions, behaviors, thoughts, and overall mental health symptoms.

Processing emotions, verbalization of feelings, normalization and validation through empathy, reflective listening, etc.

Skills building including stress and anxiety management, behavioral activation to combat depression, self-care, cognitive behavioral therapy, mindfulness (focusing on present moment and grounding). Strengths assessment and positive qualities. This activity entails helping clients re-discover or discover their strengths by reviewing all they have accomplished so far, including getting here. For many, the journey of getting here is a demonstration of determination, risk-taking, and survivorship.

Fostering a sense of safety, building safety plan (to address fears like “what if I get deported,” etc.)

Empowerment: gaining control over what we can control.

Building Awareness: providing know your rights information, connecting clients to local resources, and providing information analysis.

In addition to the work we can do through our own agencies or places of work, effective interventions include providing services for community members at their schools, churches, and community based organizations.

This requires us to partner with entities and cross collaborate. Not too long ago, several colleagues and I were going to schools to talk to immigrant parents about stress management. The local school system and the organization I worked at then formed a partnership to bring awareness during “drop off kids and coffee time.”

The clinical response and mezzo responses are just some ways of helping clients address their distress. But we know that our client’s distress is connected to environmental issues and as long as there isn’t a solution to that can aid the millions of lives impacted by the broken immigration system, our immigrant community currently in limbo will continue to suffer. This is when micro becomes macro. We have plenty of opportunities to engage right now on important fights including the passage of the DREAM and PROMISE ACT and decrying the family separations that are impacting children and are a form of children neglect and abuse. This is when we join together to fight for social justice as our NASW code of ethics calls us to do.

REFERENCES

Falicov, C. J. (2014). Latino families in therapy (2nd ed.). New York, NY: The Gilford Press.

Zayas, L. H. (2015). Forgotten citizens: deportation, children and the making of american exiles and orphans. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Zong, J., Zong, J. B., Batalova, J., & Burrows, M. (2019, March 14). Frequently Requested Statistics on Immigrants and Immigration in the United States. Retrieved from https://www.migrationpolicy.org/article/frequently-requested-statistics-immigrants-and-immigration-united-states

What is a Refugee? Definition and Meaning. Retrieved March 15, 2019, from https://www.unrefugees.org/refugee-facts/what-is-a-refugee/

Social Work and Helping Professions Must Take Action to End Child Separations at Border

Today, House Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) led more than 190 House Democrats in introducing the Keep Families Together Act, H.R. 6135, legislation to end family separation at the U.S. border.

On June 8th, 2018, Congresswoman Carol Shea-Porter (NH-01), Congresswoman and Chair of the Congressional Social Work Caucus Barbara Lee (CA-13), Congresswoman Susan Davis (CA-53), Congressman Luis V. Gutiérrez (IL-04), and Congresswoman Karen Bass (CA-37) released a joint statement on the Trump Administrations zero tolerance policy which is separating children from their parents as an immigration deterrent strategy.

“The Trump Administration’s policy of separating children from their parents is terrifying and frankly, abhorrent. Reports indicate that very young children– who are already fleeing dangerous conditions at home including domestic violence – are being taken from their parents. Families are often separated by hundreds of miles, and children are being housed in inadequate facilities. As social workers, we understand the profound impact that family separation has on a child’s developmental growth and on our society. These heartless policies instill a sense of helplessness and despair in children and could result in long-term trauma and health repercussions.

The American Academy of Pediatrics has stated that the separation of children from parents, and detention in DHS facilities that do not meet the basic standard of care for children, pose a significant threat to their long-term health and well-being. Their findings have led them to recommend that children in the custody of their parents should never be detained or separated from a parent unless a competent family court makes that determination.

Every passing day of separation has grave consequences for these children’s well-being. These are innocent children who have done nothing wrong. Forcing them to suffer at the hands of the US government is inhumane and un-American. We are taking all actions possible to end this brutal policy and reunite children with their families”, says social work members of Congress.

A release issued by the National Association of Social Workers also stated the “zero tolerance immigration policy that would prosecute families who attempt to cross the border and forcibly separate children from parents is malicious and unconscionable”.

In an effort to end child separations at the border, the Keep Families Together Act was developed in consultation with child welfare experts to ensure the federal government is acting in the best interest of children. The bill is supported by the American Academy of Pediatrics, Kids In Need of Defense (KIND), Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA), Children’s Law Center, Young Center for Immigrant Rights and the Women’s Refugee Commission.

Key Elements of the Bill

  • Keep Families Together:  The bill promotes family unity by prohibiting Department of Homeland Security (DHS) officials from separating children from their parents, except in extraordinary circumstances.  In these limited circumstances, separation could not occur unless parental rights have been terminated, a child welfare agency has issued a best interest determination, or the Port Director or the Chief Border Patrol agent of Customs and Border Protection (CBP) have approved separation due to trafficking indicators or other concerns of risk to the child.  It requires an independent child welfare official to review any such separation and return the child if no harm to the child is present. It imposes financial penalties on officials who violate the prohibition on family separation.
  • Limit Criminal Prosecutions for Asylum Seekers: The majority of the parents separated at the border are being criminally prosecuted for illegal entry or re-entry.  This bill restricts the prosecution of parents who are asylum seekers by adopting the recommendation of the DHS Office of Inspector General.  The bill delays prosecutions for asylum seekers and creates an affirmative defense for asylum seekers.  It also codifies our commitment to the Refugee protocol prohibiting the criminal punishment of those seeking protection from persecution.
  • Increase Child Welfare Training: The bill requires all CBP officers and agents to complete child welfare training on an annual basis. Port Directors and Chief Border Agents, those who are authorized to make decisions on family separations, must complete an additional 90 minutes of annual child-welfare training.
  • Establish Public Policy Preference for Family Reunification: The bill establishes a preference for family unity, discourages the separation of siblings, and creates a presumption that detention is not in the best interests of families and children.
  • Add Procedures for Separated Families: The bill requires DHS to develop policies and procedures allowing parents and children to locate each other and reunite if they have been separated.   Such procedures must be public and made available in a language that parents can understand.  In cases of separation, it requires DHS to provide parents with a weekly report containing information about a child, and weekly phone communication.
  • Establish Other Required Measures:  In order to inform Congressional oversight and promote public understanding of the use of family separation, the bill requires a report on the separation of families every six months.

In addition to Senator Feinstein, the bill is also cosponsored by 31 senators, including Senators Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Tom Carper (D-Del.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Angus King (I-Maine), Catherine Cortez-Masto (D-Nev.), Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Bob Casey (D-Pa.), Mark Warner (D-Va.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Tom Udall (D-N.M.), Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) and Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.).

We must urge Congress to allow a vote on this important piece of legislation to help minimize trauma being inflicted on children and families. Sign the petition to support the Keep Families Together Act here.

Inhumane Immigration Policies: Separating Children from Parents

United States Attorney General – Jeff Sessions

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.

NASW says plan to separate undocumented immigrant children from their parents is malicious and unconscionable

Photo Credit: Reuters

WASHINGTON, D.C. — A “zero tolerance” immigration policy that would prosecute families who attempt to cross the border and forcibly separate children from parents is malicious and unconscionable and the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) will press lawmakers to rescind this egregious action.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions on May 7 announced the zero tolerance policy for immigration into the United States. In announcing the policy, Sessions continued an unacceptable tendency to use language designed to demonize undocumented immigrants. For example, he characterized the parents seeking to escape extreme poverty and violence as “smugglers.” This paints the unfair picture that parents are criminals – not asylum seekers fleeing terrible conditions that include death threats against their families.

The “family separation policy” means that all adults will be referred to criminal court for prosecution and their children will be held in the same facilities as minors who came to the United States without their parents. Also, parents may not know where their children are placed.

This awful Department of Justice policy is fully supported by the White House and Department of Homeland Security (DHS). NASW adamantly disagrees with this approach to border security and urges a policy which strengthens and upholds families regardless of their country of origin.

The decision to separate children from their parents as soon as the parent crosses the border into the United States is both harmful and inexcusable. More concretely, the policy directly imperils the health and safety of immigrants.

It is wholly un-American to weaponize children as a deterrence against immigration. It is telling that officials from the Department of Health and Human Service (HHS) visited four military bases in Texas and Arkansas to determine whether they could be facilities to house immigrant children. This demonstrates the Trump Administration has a large-scale plan to increase prosecutions of adult undocumented immigrants and deliberately separate children from parents.

The government intends to send parents to detention facilities run by DHS while their children would go to holding facilities administered by HHS.

A plan to temporarily house children on military bases is alarming. However, it is even more concerning when we realize that the Department of Health and Human Services Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) lacks the resources and capacity to safely oversee the influx of children that is sure to result from this ill-advised family separation policy.

HHS and ORR have been criticized in the past for placing children at risk. A 2016 independent investigation found that more than two dozen unaccompanied children had been sent to homes where they were sexually assaulted, starved, or forced to work for little or no pay.

The investigation revealed that HHS did not complete thorough background checks on many adult sponsors, all of which led the Chicago Tribune to describe ORR as the “worst foster parent in the world.”

NASW highlights HHS’s problems to show how the emotional trauma inflicted on children removed from parents for reasons unrelated to abuse or neglect may be further exacerbated by placement in unsafe settings. ORR will now be asked to absorb perhaps tens of thousands more children into its overburdened system. The family separation policy is not only irresponsible but reflects a willful disregard for the safety and well-being of these children.

NASW unambiguously rejects the administration’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy. It is reprehensible that government officials at the highest levels believe that separating parents from their children is acceptable public policy.

More than 700 children have been taken from their parents since October 2017, including more than 100 children under the age of four. There is ample research demonstrating that family separation can cause long-term trauma leading to mental, physical, and educational development problems in children. For this and other reasons, this policy cannot continue.

We agree with members of Congress who have called for immediate hearings to require all heads of the Justice Department, DHS and HHS to explain and justify such an inhumane policy.

NASW also urges Congress use its constitutional authority to insist the Trump Administration rescind this ill-conceived mandate. We encourage all agencies and elected officials seek a safer future for these children by developing policy that protects them from the harms of separation from parents who violate U.S. immigration policy.

Why Social Workers Should Care About DACA

Photo Credit: Stephanie Keith/Reuters

The announcement made by Attorney General Jeff Sessions regarding the termination of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program on September 5th should be a call to action for social workers. DACA is a program for youth that arrived in the United States before the age of 16 and have lived in the United States since June 15th, 2017.

DACA was enacted as an Executive Order under the Obama Administration to give these individuals who were brought illegally to the United States as children a chance to be a part of society. These young people are given the ability to apply for a driver’s license, to legally work in the United States, and increases educational opportunities. Most importantly it allows those individuals under the program to come out of the shadows.

DACA recipients are part of our country, and this is perhaps the only country they have ever really known. Many came to the United States as infants and have contributed to their communities in meaningful ways. A study from 2016 points to the economic benefits of the DACA program.

A reported 6% have started their own businesses and many business owners have reported wanting to hire more DACA recipients. Some are working as teachers. Many DACA recipients have reported increasing their civic participation as a result of the program and some DACA recipients even act as emergency responders. One recent example includes a DACA recipient in Texas who tragically died while rescuing those impacted by Hurricane Harvey.

DACA has been challenged by the Attorney Generals of nine states, spearheaded by Texas. Tennessee, however, has dropped out of the lawsuit as a result of negative pushback. Several prominent Republicans have denounced the ending of DACA and House Speaker Paul Ryan asked the Trump Administration to give Congress time to work on a legislative solution. Meanwhile, Attorney Generals in several other states are now suing to maintain the program.

As it stands, DACA recipients will lose the current benefits they have within six months and face possible deportation if a legislative solution is not reached. This will impact 800,000 individuals currently in the program. How does this impact social work? Social workers serve in many capacities in the social services and may likely encounter those who are under the DACA program, including the school system and in college settings.

Most importantly, as social justice is a core value of our profession it is evident that we must align with upholding this program. Social workers should be on the front lines to advocate for this population. Those who have been given the opportunity to show their potential under DACA have thrived. Even DACA, however, does not go far enough in that it creates no path for citizenship, which is why the Dream-Act is needed. Living under DACA gives its recipients many crucial benefits, but ultimately leaves them as second-class citizens.

What can we do now? We must continue to organize politically and let our opinions be known to our elected officials. As a professional organization, we should place pressure on our legislators. We must organize our local chapters and mobilize student social workers. We must continue to educate others. Finally, with so many domestic and international crises looming we must not lose our empathy or capacity for hope.

As former President Obama recently wrote in response to the DACA decision, “What makes us American is our fidelity to a set of ideals – that all of us are created equal; that all of us deserve the chance to make of our lives what we will; that all of us share an obligation to stand up, speak out, and secure our most cherished values for the next generation. That’s how America has traveled this far.”

6 Actions Social Workers Can Take to Stand with Dreamers

“Stand with families” was the clamor of students members of United We Dream. (Luis Hernandez/Borderzine.com)

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

Donate.

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.

President Trump Decision to Rescind DACA is Cruel, Unwise and Unjustified

The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) strongly opposes President Trump’s decision to rescind the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and will work with allied organizations and Congress to continue protections for young immigrants who were brought into the country illegally as children.

President Trump’s decision to revoke DACA dismays us. The order is cruel, unwise and unjustified and could lead to a mass deportation of some 800,000 young people.

There is little doubt that DACA has been a successful program during its five years of existence.

DACA recipients or “Dreamers” have significantly contributed to the growth of our local state and national economies. More than 91 percent of young adult Dreamers are employed. They have also demonstrated their patriotism by joining the American military – some have even sacrificed their lives for this nation.

Abolishing DACA would end Dreamers’ pathway to citizenship and disrupt thousands of families. Many Dreamers grew up in the United States, arriving here at age six or younger. So it would be cruel to send them to countries they barely remember or where they do not know the language.

That the administration is postponing implementation of its DACA executive action for six months to give Congress time to pass bipartisan DACA legislation provides little consolation. Given the many urgent international and national priorities facing Congress, there are no guarantees that Congress will have the time to write and pass a DACA bill in the next six months. As a result, mass deportations of Dreamers are likely.

However, given that President Trump has punted DACA to Congress, the House and the Senate now have a responsibility to make passage of the Dream Act an immediate priority.

Many Democrat and Republican lawmakers opposed President Trump’s DACA executive action. NASW expects this bipartisan group will take a lead in quickly introducing and moving a bill through both houses of Congress.

Therefore, NASW will hold Congress accountable for developing an effective policy for DACA recipients that will avoid chaotic disorder in the lives of DACA recipients and their families.

NASW is also working with partner organizations to oppose President Trump’s decision to revoke DACA and is urging its members and the wider social work community to get involved in local and national activities to protect DACA.

NASW also plans to update its members about DACA-related legislation as it moves through Congress and to alert members when we need for them to take action. For more information and data related to DACA, visit the NASW advocacy website.

How Restrictive Laws Can Influence Public Attitudes Towards Immigrants

In the last few years, public opinion towards immigrants has grown more polarized. From the rising numbers of hate crimes against foreigners to the way the construction of a border wall with Mexico has become a rallying cry for some, Americans have growing concerns about immigration. What are the factors that appear to animate this polarization? My research indicates that exclusionary policies may be playing a role in the shifting dynamics of public attitudes.

The Effects of Anti-Immigrant Laws

In recent years, towns and municipalities have become increasingly willing to legislate on immigration matters. As efforts to enact national immigration reforms have stalled in Congress, hundreds of local communities have considered restrictive immigration ordinances, such as English-only declarations and fines for employers who hire undocumented immigrants. Such policies have spread throughout the country as Hispanic immigrants have moved into areas far beyond of traditional border gateways. Although the determinants of these laws have been studied, we know less about their consequences, including their impact on public attitudes.

In one such study, I focus on Hazleton, Pennsylvania, a blue-collar community that made international headlines by passing a strict anti-immigrant measures in 2007 that inspired dozens of imitators in communities across the country. To examine this law’s impact on inter-ethnic relations, I conducted semi-structured interviews with 103 residents of Hazleton in 2007 and again in 2011. I learned that the proposal of the restrictionist policy not only affected immigrants but also natives. After the policy was proposed, anti-immigrant activism in Hazleton did not subside, as some had expected. Instead, it spiked.

Why did the law have a mobilizing effect? Although residents had multiple complaints about their quality of life, the controversial new legal proposal focused the town’s attention on immigrants and solidified the perception that, as the Mayor argued, many of Hazleton’s problems were directly due to illegal migration. In effect, the law energized local residents and mobilized efforts to oppose Hispanic immigrants and the problems “they were bringing with them,” as Joanne, a middle-aged Polish-American resident, put it. Residents were inspired to attend anti-immigrant marches, and write letters to elected officials.

Another Study of a Controversial Law in Arizona

Although my interviews with the people of Hazleton were descriptive, my informants’ answers may have been biased by fading memories or their own views of the new law because the interviews were conducted after the law had been proposed. To address these potential biases, I studied Arizona’s controversial 2010 law “SB 1070” that authorized police officers to detain anyone they suspected of being an illegal immigrant. I evaluated the impact of this law on public sentiment towards immigrants by using computational text analysis to analyze more than 300,000 immigration-related tweets posted by Arizona residents in 2010. An advantage of twitter data is that it provided me with information about how residents talked about immigrants both before and after the anti-immigrant policy was approved by the Arizona legislature.

Using this approach, I found that the Arizona law had a negative impact on the average sentiment expressed in twitter messages about immigrants, Mexicans, and Hispanics, but not on the sentiments expressed in tweets about Asians or Blacks. However, the changes I found in public discourse were not caused by shifts in underlying attitudes toward immigrants but instead happened because the law helped mobilize users with pre-existing anti-immigrant views. This finding for Arizona mirrors what I previously found using ethnographic interviews in Hazleton.

Laws Can Have Material Consequences

Besides mobilizing residents with restrictionist tendencies, I also found that these policies could have other tangible social consequences. In a follow-up article, I found that the proposal of anti-immigrant policies in Pennsylvania is correlated with significant increases in handgun sales even after accounting for a rigorous set of controls. Using both newspaper and administrative data, I found that as public leaders made the case for these policies, they increasingly linked immigrants with crime and social disorder. In turn, newspapers were more likely to publish articles linking immigrants with a crime following the passage of restrictionist policies. These menacing portrayals of immigrants intensified social anxiety, which led to an increase in gun purchases.

But Effects May Be Ephemeral

Although my research shows that restrictionist policies have tangible social consequences, the effects tend to be ephemeral. When I left Hazleton in 2007, a few months after the town had approved the anti-immigrant ordinance, ethnic tensions were quite high. But much to my surprise, when I returned in 2011, locals consistently reported that open racial antagonism had subsided and mobilizations against immigrants had died down. In addition, Hazleton’s Hispanic population has continued to grow since 2007. Recent developments thus highlight the limitations of Hazleton’s exclusionary policy steps. Not only was the social and political impact temporary, repressive policies failed to stop the flow of Hispanic immigrants into Hazleton.

In short, my research reveals the unintended consequences of exclusionary laws – and also suggests their limitations. Although some politicians may endorse punitive policies in an effort to placate and attract, my findings suggest that these policies may actually stir the pot further and encourage individuals with pre-existing anti-immigrant views to become more politically active.

In turn, the increased political participation of these dedicated individuals may raise the odds that a new round of punitive policies could happen in the future. This feedback loop may explain why in recent years states like Arizona have implemented ever more punitive policies targeting immigrants, racial minorities, and homosexuals. However, further repressive efforts are not a certainty – as the calming of ethnic tensions in Hazleton demonstrates. In that city, immigrants are now a majority or close to it and they make vital contributions to the local economy.

Hundreds of U.S. Citizens Continue to Be Detained, New Immigration Data Shows

ICE

An analysis of U.S. government data obtained by Northwestern University’s Deportation Research Clinic shows that the U.S. government detained more than 260 U.S. citizens for weeks and even years, most in private prisons under contract with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). They were released after asserting their U.S. citizenship claims in immigration court.

The average time of detention for U.S. citizens was 180 days. ICE acknowledges that it is unlawful for ICE to detain U.S. citizens under deportation laws.

In response to the clinic’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, the U.S. government released data showing that between January 1, 2011, and June 9, 2017, immigration judges rescheduled hearings for 1,714 cases after respondents in deportation proceedings claimed U.S. citizenship. More than 1,000 of these claims succeeded.

“The new data show that the detention of U.S. citizens is not just a possibility, but a persistent fact,” said Jacqueline Stevens, director of the Deportation Research Clinic and professor of political science in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences (WCAS) at Northwestern. Northwestern students Avery Miller and Elizabeth Meehan, both of WCAS, assisted with data analysis.

After an article ran in the New Yorker in 2013 about a U.S. detainee, in which Stevens was quoted and her research used, John Morton, then ICE assistant director, responded in a letter to the magazine and said “new safeguards to protect against the possibility of a citizen’s detainment or removal” had been implemented.

However, Stevens said within days of reading the letter she received two more letters from U.S. citizens detained by ICE. She then decided to fill out a FOIA request for data from immigration court cases adjourned based on claims of U.S. citizenship.

Stevens said another key finding from the data was that 30 percent of respondents who were represented by attorneys remained in the U.S., while only 17 percent of those without an attorney succeeded in their efforts to avoid deportation.

The clinic researchers performed cross checks on the released data using cases in clinic files and caution that the data are just the tip of the iceberg.

“We compared 23 randomly selected cases of U.S. citizens who had appeared in immigration courts since January 1, 2011, and only two were in this release, both of which I had brought to the attention of the government,” Stevens said.

Stevens explained that cases could be missing from the data set because adjudicators may not realize the respondent has a claim to U.S. citizenship; may deport the person at the first hearing, which means there would be no rescheduling code, or may reschedule using a code for “seeks more time for any attorney,” or another valid reason that is not the claim of U.S. citizenship.

Stevens also pointed out that two cases from files obtained under the Freedom of Information Act on behalf of U.S. citizens who had signed privacy waivers were coded as U.S. citizenship claim adjournments but also do not appear in the Excel output from the government.

As a result of current litigation under the Freedom of Information Act, Stevens recently received documents indicating that ICE has internal protocols for handling claims of U.S. citizenship that contradict its stated policy and the U.S. Constitution. She said she plans to release this analysis later this year following the final production of documents.

Undocumented Immigration Doesn’t Worsen Drug, Alcohol Problems in U.S., Study Indicates

Despite being saddled with many factors associated with drug and alcohol problems, undocumented immigrants are not increasing the prevalence of drug and alcohol crimes and deaths in the United States, according to a new study published in the American Journal of Public Health.

Researchers led by University of Wisconsin–Madison sociology Professor Michael Light used newly developed state-level estimates of the unauthorized immigrant population to examine the relationship between undocumented immigration and drug and alcohol arrests and deaths.

Light says national debate on immigration law spurred him to begin a series of studies on undocumented immigrants and public safety and health.

“This is an area where public and political debates have far outpaced the research,” Light says. “And central to this debate is whether undocumented immigration increases drug and alcohol problems, or crime more generally. There are good theoretical reasons to think it could have increased substance abuse problems in recent decades. But the data just doesn’t show it.”

Light, who was a professor at Purdue University while he conducted the study, along with Purdue sociology Professor Brian Kelly and graduate student Ty Miller, used immigration data from the Center for Migration Studies and the Pew Research Center spanning 1990 to 2014.

They compared undocumented immigration rates to four representative measures of drug and alcohol problems: drug crimes and driving under the influence arrests collected from federal, state and municipal sources in the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports; and drug overdose deaths and drunken driving fatalities counted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Underlying Cause of Death database and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System.

According to the study, rather than increasing substance abuse problems, a 1 percent increase in the proportion of the population that is undocumented is associated with 22 fewer drug arrests, 42 fewer drunken driving arrests and 0.64 fewer drug overdoses — all per 100,000 people. The frequency of drunken driving fatalities was unaffected by unauthorized immigration rates.

According to Light, one explanation for these findings could be what prior research often calls the “healthy immigrant thesis” or “Latino paradox.”

“When you look at things we think of as predictive of criminal behavior and poor health outcomes — low levels of education, few economic assets — immigrants tend to be engaging in less crime and staying healthier than we would expect,” Light says.

And yet, undocumented immigration is often stirred into debate of social ills like opioid use. It’s unquestionable that drugs are smuggled across the border between the United States and Mexico, Light says, but this does not mean drug smuggling and unauthorized immigration are one and the same.

“That just doesn’t appear to be the case,” he says. “If you want to fight the opioid epidemic or reduce drunk driving, deporting undocumented immigrants residing in the U.S. is likely not going to be the most effective policy.”

Children Following Deported Parents Face Educational Roadblocks

By: Robin Chenoweth

Children who go to Mexico to live with a deported parent can encounter a host of struggles, an Ohio State University researcher says, including social isolation and difficulty in school because they can’t read and write in Spanish. The children, who mostly were born in the United States and may have never been to Mexico, experience a difficult transition and often are held back in their new schools.

Mexican schools, especially in rural areas to which many immigrants return, do not have second-language instruction or individualized support for children with learning difficulties, said Sarah Gallo, assistant professor at Ohio State’s College of Education and Human Ecology. Gallo is a Fulbright Scholar in the state of Puebla doing research on forced repatriation and transnational schooling.

Children of Mexican immigrants in the United States often speak Spanish in the home, but are not literate in their parents’ native language. Because most receive limited bilingual education in the United States, they are unlikely to develop the academic Spanish and literacy they need to succeed in Mexico.

“When they arrive in Mexico, they are in the same class with everybody else, with teachers who have never been trained to work with multilingual students or with students who bring in different resources,” she said. “Kids and families and teachers really have to come up with their own strategies on how to make this work.”

Kids adjust differently depending on their age, social supports and teachers, Gallo said. A first-grader in the study transitioned well because his peers also were learning to read Spanish. His third-grade brother encountered huge challenges because he was expected to read and write in Spanish his first day of school.

“Even within the same family, in the same school, in the same community, their transition has been very different,” she said.

As part of her yearlong grants through Fulbright and the National Academy of Education/Spencer Foundation, Gallo works in five schools with students who have come to Mexico since 2014. In the largest school, 7.5 percent, or about 30 students, were U.S.-born. In some cases, students’ parents were deported and their children followed them to Mexico. In others, a family member was sick or dying back home and the undocumented relative was forced to make an agonizing decision.

“Do you go back to see your mom at the end of her life? Going back to see them means permanently going back in most cases because re-crossing the border is so difficult,” especially now, Gallo said.

As an ethnographer and anthropologist of education, she spends a lot of time with students in schools and in their homes. She has observed an emotional toll on some children.

In small Mexican towns, a high value is placed on conformity, Gallo said. Even the curriculum in public schools dictates that every student learns the same lesson from the same books, often on the same day.

“There’s not a lot of space to be different,” Gallo said.

That makes it tough for kids like the teenager from New York City who relocated to a 100-student school at the foot of a volcano in Puebla.

“She has been there for two and a half years and the social isolation she has faced and the academic struggles are tremendous,” she said.

Previous studies indicate that children who emigrate from the United States are three to four times more likely to fail a grade.

Gallo’s research in Mexico mirrors her work in Marshall, Pennsylvania, where she did dissertation studies about elementary school children whose parents were undocumented immigrants. She published a book about her findings, Mi Padre: Mexican Immigrant Fathers and Their Children’s Education, in April.

In the United States, Gallo found that the threat of deportation weighs heavily on the minds of children of undocumented immigrants. She writes about Princess, a small girl who sang rhymes about a policeman coming to deport her. Months later, Princess’ father was arrested for dropping a soda bottle in front of his apartment.

That offense led to his deportation to Mexico. The year was 2010.

Laws and the means to deport undocumented immigrants — even for minor infractions such as driving without a license — were in place during the Obama administration, which conducted the highest number of deportation removals in the history of the U.S., more than 3 million removed by immigration courts over eight years.

“It was not in the media. Most Western, white, middle-class people knew very little about this,” Gallo said. “But it was a daily reality for kids.”

Princess, a second-grader, became withdrawn, distracted and easily upset in school, Gallo writes. The girl and her mother remain in the United States, separated from Princess’ father. Because returning to the United States carries the threat of jail time, many deportees don’t take the risk.

A culture of silence surrounds deportations because families fear if they speak up they will be further targeted, Gallo’s research shows. Teachers usually don’t broach the subject because they worry they might have to report it. Princess’ teacher did not know about her father’s deportation and didn’t understand the girl’s behavior change, Gallo writes.

“I need to say, silence isn’t the answer,” she said. “Telling kids you can’t talk about it, you just have to hold it all inside, isn’t going to help them.”

Gallo advocates for schools opening dialogue with immigrant families and students, both in Mexico and the United States. In both settings, she said, children should not be viewed through a “deficit lens.”

“Look at all these tremendous resources and knowledge that they bring to their schooling that are not incorporated or recognized or leveraged in the curriculum,” she said. “What would happen if we started a literacy curriculum that looks at the way they serve as translators or what it means to be a bilingual kid?”

Meanwhile, school administrators and teachers in Mexico are bracing for an influx of new students from the United States. January through mid-March, immigration arrests increased more than 32.6 percent from the same period last year, according to Immigration and Customs Enforcement figures supplied to the Washington Post. Many arrested on immigration charges await court appearances.

“They’re trying to prepare for it but there are no real systems in place to prepare for it,” Gallo said.

Those who remain in the United States also fear their children face an uncertain future in schools and in the community, Gallo said.

“Many families right now are asking, is it really worth dealing with this much discrimination on a daily basis for me and my kids?”

Three Myths about Latino Immigrants That It’s Time to Bust

Photo by Monivette Cordeiro

As a counseling professor, I train my students to ask their clients: “If you succeed in making the changes we’re talking about, what will be better?” So I have to ask: Has the President thought through the consequences of his actions on immigration?

America was built on positives. We didn’t become great by preventing, arresting, and deporting. Why does the President want us to return to a past we never had? Is it even possible to build something great while focusing on tearing down or walling off?

I’ve conducted more than two decades of research on population studies, and here’s what I can tell you about Latino stereotypes: It’s time to get rid of them. The fact is, immigration is at the core of America’s greatness, and Latinos are very much a part of that greatness.

Here are some of the key facts from analyses of Census data that I’ve done with my colleague Jorge Garcia and from other sources:

First, Latinos do share our culture and do adapt.

The wall-builders say that “Latinos don’t share our culture and won’t adapt — they just aren’t like us.” But in the past, some Americans said the same thing about each wave of Irish, Italian, and Polish immigrants.

Research shows that after three generations of being here, Latinos look remarkably similar to those previous immigrant groups. (Of course, most Latinos in the US aren’t immigrants but have been here for many generations – much longer than many other groups.)

Like Americans in general, Latinos are more likely to live in big cities and are more likely to be married. Like earlier generations of immigrants from Europe, they have a preference for coastal cities and their families are slightly bigger than average.

Latinos are on average younger. However, that’s a big benefit for a US population that would otherwise find it much more difficult to grow the economy and pay for programs like Social Security that are based on younger people funding older people.

Second, Latinos are not criminals.

Several studies have failed to show any relationship between immigrant presence and increased crime rates. In fact, a recent study showed that areas with the most immigrants have lower crime rates. It’s important to remember that to be here without documents is a civil violation not a crime; think of it as the equivalent of traffic tickets.

Third, Latinos are not taking your jobs.

The biggest difference between Latinos and the total US population is in their types of occupations. In both 2000 and 2010, the majority of Americans overall were employed in managerial and sales jobs. For Latinos, the majority were employed in either low-level white collar or blue collar occupations, both skilled and unskilled. So, are they taking our jobs? Not as long as these types of occupational differences persist. And yesterday’s Day Without Immigrants protest is a prime example of this fact.

When Latinos do what other immigrants did and become more educated, they’ll move up and start taking some of those white collar jobs. And that will be a very good thing for America, because we’re already looking at huge shortages of educated people as the baby boomers retire.

Are Latinos a drain on our society because they use social services? They do use services, but also contribute significantly to the tax base that pays for those services.

Other Americans, for example those in rust belt states with aging populations, use a lot more services than Latinos, and already are benefiting from younger people supporting the tax base.

Sadly, Latinos who are undocumented, provide an especially big boost to the economy – they pay the taxes but aren’t eligible for benefits. These aren’t the only myths about Latinos. Language acquisition? Same as previous immigrants. Educational attainment? If Latinos get to college they tend to major in similar disciplines as the rest of the country. Military service? Latinos have a long tradition of serving in the US military.

Even the causes of death are similar for the total US population as for Latinos – both die from the same top diseases: heart disease and cancer. Many Latinos, especially in border areas, have retained the ability to speak Spanish. But English is their primary language and American culture –from sports to movies – is the only one they know or care about.

Begging the question of whether it’s possible to build greatness by tearing things down, the obvious conclusion is that Latinos are more like other Americans than they are different. Let’s build relationships and not walls.

Trump Administration’s Orders Pose Harm to Refugees, Immigrants, Academic Research and International Exchange, According to Psychologists

Iranian psychologists in American Psychological Association (APA) Convention From left to right: Sheava Rahimi, Dr. Mehrpouyan, Dr. Fakhrabadi, Dr. Modarressi, Dr. Pakdaman, Peyman Raoofi

WASHINGTON – While safeguarding the nation from terrorist entry is of critical national importance, the Trump administration’s proposed restrictions on refugees and other visitors are likely to compound the stress and trauma already experienced by populations at risk for discrimination, limit scientific progress and increase stigma, according to the American Psychological Association (APA).

APA voiced concern regarding the executive order issued Jan. 27 that suspends all refugee admissions for 120 days, more than halves to 50,000 the number of refugees to be admitted in 2017, indefinitely blocks all refugees from Syria, and bars entry for 90 days to individuals from seven Muslim-majority countries.

“Refugees, particularly those displaced from war zones, experience stress, trauma and other serious mental health problems,” said APA President Antonio E. Puente, PhD. “Denying them entry to the United States, particularly those who have already been vetted, is inhumane and likely to worsen their suffering. This conclusion is based on extensive research and clinical experience, as well as my own personal past.”

Such policies can lead to a perception of reduced freedom, safety and social connection for those directly affected, as well as for society at large. APA urged the administration also to consider the importance of allowing international students and psychologists with proper documentation to enter the United States. The restrictions to entry will prevent many international students and scientists from studying, working or attending conferences in the United States, curbing the nation’s ability to benefit from global scientific talent, according to APA. They will also impede the international engagement of scientists living in this country who are not U.S. citizens.

APA also took exception to an executive order issued on Jan. 25 that would make it easier to deport immigrants. Research has documented serious mental health consequences for immigrant children and/or their parents who have been forced to leave the United States, which may magnify earlier trauma experienced in or upon fleeing their country of origin. Sudden and unexpected family separation is associated with negative outcomes on child well-being that can last well into adulthood.

The president’s executive order on immigration could lead to expanding family detention centers, according to APA. Immigration detainees are more vulnerable to psychological stress, compared to those in the community. The longer the detention period, the greater the risk of depression and other mental health symptoms for immigrants who were previously exposed to interpersonal trauma.

“The United States has historically served as a safe haven for the world’s refugees and a destination for those interested in the educational and employment opportunities that our nation offers, as it did for me,” Puente said. “We must strive to develop ways to secure our borders from those very few who wish to harm us while continuing to welcome others who come to our shores in peace.”

The American Psychological Association, in Washington, D.C., is the largest scientific and professional organization representing psychology in the United States. APA’s membership includes nearly 115,700 researchers, educators, clinicians, consultants and students. Through its divisions in 54 subfields of psychology and affiliations with 60 state, territorial and Canadian provincial associations, APA works to advance the creation, communication and application of psychological knowledge to benefit society and improve people’s lives.

Issues for Immigrant Parents and Their Children

Immigrant families to Canada and the United States can face many issues complicating their adjustment to the new host culture.

Often unconsidered is the implications for intra-familial culture clash when children take to the host culture sooner or more wholeheartedly than their parents. Risk of conflict between children and their parents is heightened on issues of socialization with opposite gender friends, developing friends of other cultures, issues of rights and freedoms and expectations for academic performance.

Further, it is important to appreciate that immigrant families come to Canada generally seeking to provide a better life for their children than what might have been available in their country of origin. Hence when these parents come up against conflict with their children owing to adaptation, the conflict can be felt by the parent as tremendous disrespect by the child who doesn’t understand the parents’ rationale and sacrifice in coming to the new country.

While there are common challenges faced between immigrant parents and children of both gender, risk of pregnancy is a potent issue that can intensify concerns for the well-being of girls. In addition, strong cultural imperatives with regard to dress, deportment and socializing with the opposite sex can at times place greater demands on girls than boys.

These differences can erupt into serious fights between daughters and parents. Even when a fight does not erupt, some teenaged girls may seek to lead a double-life; keeping secrets about relationships and even their dress when at school or in the community. Other teenaged girls may seek to subordinate their feelings to the will of their parents only to find themselves depressed and anxious over the difficulty with cultural and family adaptation.

Boys do face cultural imperatives and conflicts too, but the absence of risk of pregnancy can lessen the scrutiny placed upon them by parents. However, the boys may be more subject to high expectations for academic excellence, which may or may not be taken well. If not taken well, boys may come to reject their own family’s culture, falling prey to the illusions of freedom from authority by gravitating to counter-culture groups or gangs. This in turn can lead to a risk of conflict with the law and abject academic failure as well as extreme conflict with their family.

The challenge is on the parents to adapt and find reasonable strategies to support cultural expectations in view of the greater likelihood that their children will be affected and changed by the new host culture. It is less a question of whether the children will be changed by the host culture, but rather how and to what degree.

Further, some immigrant parents may hail from cultures where the norm is to tell a child what to do and expect obedience. This quickly erodes for the children socialized particularly in western culture where individual freedom is valued and rewarded. Thus those parents who adjust and develop strategies that minimize the risk of conflict with their children stand the opportunity to remain more influential in their children’s lives than those parents who rely solely upon control strategies.

While not nagging their children, sharing stories as to why parents chose to immigrate and their hopes for their family’s future can inform their children as to their family aspirations. Further, when parents invite their children to engage in a dialogue about the differences between their respective lives non-judgmentally; parents and children may be apprised of their respective experiences and may be in a better position to discuss differences between themselves.

The challenge here is for the parents to develop skills that rely more upon influence than control. This can also be facilitated by participation and enjoyment of cultural activities and inviting their children’s new friends to join in. Co-opting children’s friends can serve as a better way of maintaining family integrity than isolating from friends.

New Executive Order Reflects Giant Leap Away From Any Type of Reasonable Approach to Immigration Reform

University of Michigan Anthropology Professor Jason De León

Jason De Leon, University of Michigan assistant professor of anthropology, has spent years studying the lives of undocumented migrants crossing the U.S.-Mexican border, and more recently the southern Mexican-Guatemalan border. He is the author of “The Land of Open Graves: Living and Dying on the Migrant Trail.”

“The recent executive order on immigration and border enforcement reflects both a failure of the current administration to understand the realities of how we police our southern political boundary and giant leap away from any type of reasonable approach to immigration reform,” he said. “Years of research and investigative journalism have demonstrated that many of these proposals are either impossible, dangerous, and/or destined to fail. An increase in immigration detention centers has been shown to be a new way to pad the pockets of private contractors who are moving away from the unpopular prison-industrial complex towards the immigration-detention industry.

“This increase in private detention centers is also directly linked to numerous human rights violations, which would only get worse should we increase construction rates of these facilities. Expanding the border patrol seems odd given that this administration has recently called for a federal hiring freeze. Moreover, given the rigorous vetting required to join the border patrol, it is unlikely that any type of hiring surge would be possible at this point.

“Finally, the construction of a wall would be prohibitively expensive, a logistical nightmare to maintain, a disaster for the natural environment, and a project subject to numerous legal appeals by environmental groups, Native Americans who live along the border, and various other agencies and groups. More importantly, decades of research have clearly shown that a wall along the border would function as nothing other than an overpriced monument to xenophobia and a failure to understand how border security works.”

Center for Migration Studies Refutes Claims that Undocumented Immigration to the United States Surged in 2014 and 2015

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New York, NY – The Center for Migration Studies of New York (CMS) today issued a detailed analysis of immigration to the United States in 2014 and 2015. CMS’s analysis, authored by Robert Warren, CMS’s Senior Visiting Fellow and former director of the Immigration and Naturalization Service’s Statistics Division.
 
After closely examining a report by the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), CMS concluded the following:

  • Any increases in arrivals and foreign-born population growth in 2014 and 2015 are well within the bounds of normal annual fluctuations observed in Census Bureau survey data over the past 15 years.
  • Any increases were the result of: (1) an increase in temporary admissions, mostly students and temporary workers and their families; and, (2) the arrival of immigrants (overwhelmingly those with legal status) who resided in the United States in previous years, left for some period, and returned. The movement of the latter group is quantified in the CMS report for the first time.
  • Legal immigrant arrivals accounted for all of the reported increase (by CIS) in total arrivals in 2014, and therefore undocumented immigration has remained unchanged.

Earlier this year, CMS reported that the total US undocumented population fell below 11 million in 2014 for the first time since 2004. CMS also offered evidence that the Mexican-born undocumented population continued to decline, falling by more than 600,000 between 2010 and 2014. The CMS paper is available at p/jmhs/article/view/58.
 
“CMS’s most recent analysis demonstrates that the gradual increase in the number of arriving immigrants in each of the past few years is accounted for by arrivals of legal non-immigrants (admitted temporarily) and of returning (legal) immigrants,” said Donald Kerwin, CMS’s Executive Director. “At a time when Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is claiming that the US undocumented population could be as large as 30 million persons, it is important to emphasize that this population of 10.9 million is not growing and, in fact, has declined by one million persons since 2007.”

The Center for Migration Studies (CMS) is a New York-based educational institute devoted to the study of international migration, to the promotion of understanding between immigrants and receiving communities, and to public policies that safeguard the dignity and rights of migrants, refugees, and newcomers. For more information, please visit www.cmsny.org.

Shifting Social Constructs: The Rising Villianization of Refugees

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© AP Photo/ Juergen Schwarz

Headlines detailing the fallout of refugee migration throughout Europe appear in major news sources almost daily. While discussion around countries and organizations being overwhelmed by sheer numbers remains the same, the sentiment toward refugees appears to be shifting from benevolence to something entirely different.

As a nation, Germany serves as a case study for this hypothesis. In 2015, Germany accepted over a million refugees, larger than the amount the United States has in a decade, as well as the highest number accepted by any European country for the calendar year. The open-door policy authored by German Chancellor Angela Merkel toward refugees fleeing Syria and Iraq last fall sanctioned the influx.

During the initial months of the policy being in effect German citizens actually came to train stations where refugees were arriving and applauded them as they arrived. However, this widespread welcoming attitude has since been abandoned. Events like mass sexual assaults in Cologne on New Year’s Eve, alleged high crime rates within refugee camps, and infiltration of terrorists amongst refugees contributes to the recasting of refugees within Germany as deviants.

CNN reporters recounted how in the city of Cologne on New Year’s Eve 2015 there were ninety criminal incidents recorded reported with a smaller number of such instances in Hamburg. Of those incidents, twenty-five percent were reported as being sexual assaults including one instance of rape. All victims described the individuals as “gangs of Arab or North African men”. At that point in time, German Justice Minister Heiko Maas “warned against linking the assaults to the immigration issue” but with the description of the perpetrators broadcast, connections were drawn and the public outraged.

Additionally, German authorities announced on May 11 that there were 40 open investigations regarding believed Islamic militants who immigrated to Germany with the refugees. The announcement confirmed and built upon already present fears regarding terrorist attacks. Instances like the July 19 axe attack, one of three violent acts by refugees this month, aboard a German passenger train by an individual identified as “teenage Afghan refugee”  continue to fuel fear and provide further evidence to solidify the relegation of refugees’ social construct, within Germany’s perceived popular opinion, to the deviant category.

Aljazeera went as far as to label this the emerging image of “the rapist refugee as Germany’s boogeyman”. It is an image which will inform future immigration policy and popular opinion. It is already noted in the decreasing support for two term German Chancellor Angela Merkel as she continues to support immigration and is experiencing a drop in polls with almost two-thirds surveyed saying she should not run again in 2017.

The focus on the miscreant minority casts a shadow over the refugee majority’s potential. It is a potential that economists assert could be the answer to Germany and Europe’s aging workforce. The labor market needs an influx of young workers to make up for the millions reaching retirement age. It is a need which roughly one third of the refugees within Germany’s borders can fill. Yet, the success of refugee integration into the German labor market hinges on more than just age. It encompasses language, education and skill levels, qualification recognition, legal right to work, and employer openness.

Successful integration into the labor market does not operate in a vacuum where only the listed criteria apply. Instead it will be steered by society which begs the question: will a criminal minority shift the perception of the refugee population at large? The fallout politically, socially, and economically for refugees in Germany and in other receiving countries is yet to be determined. However, the swinging social construct will impact millions of lives globally.

Cognitive Dissonance: How We Dismiss the Refugee Crisis

Hungarian Camerawoman trips refugee child to prevent them from eluding police.
Hungarian Camerawoman trips refugee child to prevent them from eluding police.

Whilst politicians appear concerned about the monetary deficit invoked by refugees, many people are currently concerned with what appears to be a deficit in compassion.

This is particularly with regard to the current humanitarian crisis of refugees, for reasons ranging from their numbers, their religion, and their reasons. What we are seeing is dehumanisation, which arguably has two facets – the first being mechanistic dehumanisation, where we believe others are lacking basic human traits such as warmth, emotionality, and depth. The second form of dehumanisation is animalistic dehumanisation where we see others as lacking human uniqueness – elements such as rationality, maturity and moral sensibility that separate humans from other species.

But, how does this happen? There are many theories about how dehumanisation can occur on both a personal and societal level. Here we are going to consider the theory of cognitive dissonance, alongside ideas about how our social environment can have an impact.

Cognitive dissonance theory stipulates that we feel uncomfortable when we hold two conflicting beliefs at the same time. We also experience cognitive dissonance if we act in conflict with a belief or value. For example, my health is important, but I binge on pizza every night.

How much dissonance we experience depends on how important our personal values conflict with our beliefs. If I need to get up early, but I’m staying up late watching a film, I might feel a tad conflicted. However, if I have a very important interview tomorrow, I will feel more conflicted about staying up late. If the interview is for a job I don’t particularly want, suddenly it’s easier to stay up.

The level of dissonance is also affected by how much information we have supporting each belief. Usually it’s harder to hold on to beliefs which have a mountain of evidence against them. However, linked to the above paragraph about values, conflicting evidence is most likely to change beliefs we don’t value very much. If our belief is very dear and important to us, conflicting evidence can actually make us strengthen the belief and hold onto it tighter in order to erase the conflicted/dissonant feeling.

If we are in ‘dissonance’, we somehow need to make these two conflicting beliefs balance out again – essentially so we don’t feel like a hypocrite.

There are several ways we can do this. In the example ‘refugees need our help’ we could:

  • add extra cognitions to justify ourselves (‘help at home first’)
  • ignore conflicting information (e.g. avoiding the news)
  • change the cognition which causes conflict (‘they are not victims, they’re economic migrants not refugees’), and finally…
  • change our behaviour to make it in line with the original belief (i.e. doing something to help).

Another example might be that I believe I’m a ‘good person’, but I do things which do not fit with ‘good person’ labeling. For example, ignoring a petition about a humanitarian crisis. To resolve this conflict, I could choose to act congruently with my values and sign or take alternative action such as making a donation. I could, however, seek out people who support my lack of action, people who think online petitions don’t have any impact, to make myself feel better. I could also seek out information which confirms my altered cognitions consisting of news stories about refugees being terrorists or liars. As another alternative, I could alter my beliefs about what a ‘humanitarian crisis’ is to make it something that is not my problem or not a real humanitarian crisis.

I believe many of these things are happening en-masse at the moment with the current refugee crisis. Here are some of the ways people are resolving cognitive dissonance to make ourselves more comfortable and less compassionate.

Firstly, we can reduce the human element of the crisis. This includes likening refugees to animals or insects, and using anonymous numbers without corresponding personal touches. Refugees have been called a swarm by the UK Prime Minister in addition to other using references  such as cockroaches and towns being ‘swamped’.

Large numbers of refugees without individual cases to humanise them can lead to facelessness and a lack of true understanding or empathy toward their plight. Perhaps that’s why it took a photo of a single child, Alan Kurdi, alongside the numbers, for people to remember these numbers are not abstract. Each refugee represents a life, and nearly half of Syrian refugees are children. On top of this, Britain has only taken in a trainful of Syrian refugees – the apparent swarm is currently missing in action.

We can also create an us-and-them situation.

“The decision to cooperate and expend resources for another’s benefit is a dilemma of trust since the ultimate benefits depend on everyone else’s willingness to do the same”. – M. Brewer (1999)

The dynamics of this are complex and contingent on multiple levels of belief systems and environmental safety. However, lack of trust helps us dehumanise and conflict with ‘outgroups’, alongside feelings of superiority, assuming the moral absoluteness of the ingroup, and feelings of fear/threat over resources.

At the moment, people in Britain are fearful of their job security, worrying about paying rent, food prices are rising, and the media is playing up to stereotypes of people who are trying to swindle the taxpayer in order ‘get something for nothing’. This is in light of a long list of Britain’s elites squandering taxpayer money on moats, chauffeurs, and second houses. It isn’t difficult, therefore, to foster a lack of trust in others to create a threat from the outgroup ‘stealing’ jobs or money, and add extra cognitions which justify lack of action with a sense of “help at home first, what has anyone ever done for me, we don’t have the resources”.

People generally find it hard to dehumanise others without a corresponding dehumanising environment. To start with, we have people feeling under threat as explained above which leads to Zimbardo’s famous Stanford Prison Study documenting ways to foster dehumansing environments. This includes living in an unpredictable environment and the UK arguably had one of its most unpredictable elections ever in 2015.

Beginning with smaller abusive acts such as fake stories about misuse of the Human Rights Act, anti-immigration rhetoric being framed as economically sound in spite of contrary evidence), and minimising individual social responsibility to do anything. This plays with the fact that the British public are disillusioned about politics, and presumably their ability to make any meaningful broad-scale change in light of this.

Additionally, Zimbardo notes the role of providing people with a solid ideology or rhetoric for unpleasant actions. Perfect case examples include, but are not limited to, Donald Trump in America and UKIP in the United Kingdom. In both, it allows them to perform dehumanising acts against certain groups whilst feeling ‘justified’ in doing so. For example, a parent may beat their child ‘for their own good’, or a politician might argue that ‘real’ help does not come from accepting refugees – it is ‘for their own good’ to find a bigger solution that does not involve accepting refugees.

This also involves lack of adequate information about what is happening to refugees – shelters have been torched, refugees have been ‘tattooed’ with permanent-marker numbers in the Czech Republic, refugees including babies and children have been pepper-sprayed by police and by the public. Additionally, there are ongoing deaths in Calais and 2,200 refugees have died at since since July this year. The Still Human Still Here campaign raises awareness of the horrific destitution facing refused asylum seekers in the UK alone. This atrocities are not hidden, and it can be found on any search engine. But why would you seek this information out only to increase your sense of discomfort when it can be avoided?

Again, it goes back to threat – economic migrants want to steal our jobs and money, refugees are economic migrants, therefore refugees are a threat. Therefore, the refugee humanitarian crisis is also linked to misinformation about migrants more generally.

People of the UK overestimate numbers of immigrants nearly doubling the true number, alongside overestimating other social issues such as unemployment and teenage pregnancy.  A University College London study found that immigrants who have arrived in the UK since 2000 have made a net contribution of £25bn and were less likely to receive ‘benefits’, tax credits, or live in social housing.

The NHS owes a huge amount to people who were not born in the UK and tight immigration rules are negatively impacting the NHS due to lack of nurses. One can ignore this information or add cognitions which allow the facts to be dismissed such as assuming the study was mis-conducted or done on incomplete data, suggesting we’d have fewer foreign-born nurses if there was more ‘space’ for people born in Britain, or that we wouldn’t need as many nurses if we had fewer immigrants.

Unfortunately, this ‘economic migrant’ and utterly false ‘welfare benefit’ rhetoric has placed the British public nicely in a position to alter their belief about the intentions of refugees, reducing cognitive dissonance because one can believe that ‘their’ home countries are safe; ‘they’ are here only for ‘our’ money and jobs; ‘they’ have no legitimate reason to be here. If the other’s intentions can be considered illegitimate, manipulative, or meaningfully harmful, it makes it easier to dismiss their beliefs, actions or values.

This dissonance has very real and deadly consequences. 67% of the British public would support sending troops in to France to stop what have been termed ‘immigrants’from entering the country. Refugees are being treated like criminals. Although there are petitions to allow more refugees into the UK, news outlets showing how individual people can contribute, crowdfunders, websites helping people to share a room in their house, viral videos of Germans cheering arriving refugees, and grassroots campaigns. However, there is still a widespread sense that refugees are a horde to be rid of rather than fellow humans to be welcomed with open arms and kept safe.

The discomfort of the humanitarian crisis is apparent for anyone who has had even remote contact with news of the situation. However, the way to resolve this discomfort is not for us to alter and add beliefs until we feel safe in our inaction. It’s someone else’s problem, we need to tackle things in home countries alone, we will ‘open the door’ to anyone if we let in refugees, and that’s bad, we have enough on our plate, there’s no room, im(migrant)refugees take up our resources and they’re only here to steal our jobs but also to not-work and they take all our benefits anyway.

Enough is enough. We have to stop using a lack of compassion to resolve our own discomfort and face up to the hard truth. Otherwise, history will not look kindly upon this period of time.

 

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