How Can Social Workers Respond to and Help the Immigrant Family Separation Crisis?

The latest immigration crisis was sparked by revelations that young children were being separated from their families as they arrived at processing centers in U.S. border towns. Family and child advocates emphasized the long-lasting trauma on children torn from the safety of their parents' nurturing. The activists' groups calling for an end to these inhumane policies came from all walks of life, including lawyers, teachers, health care professionals and many more. While this is an issue that requires action from many sectors, people with a background in child psychology or a social work degree are among those who understand the true challenges of this situation.

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The Family Separation Crisis Explained

Immigrants from strife-torn nations in South and Central America have been making their way to Mexico, hoping to seek asylum in the U.S. They cross the border into the U.S. to get a chance for an interview with immigration officials who determine if they have a credible fear of their homeland. Those who meet the credible-fear criteria may proceed to asylum processing but may have to be held in detention for a maximum of 20 days.

The Trump administration imposed stricter rules barring the release of asylum seekers awaiting processing, the laws also specified enforcement of rules disallowing minors in federal detention centers. The immigration crisis escalated as children were placed in detention shelters separate from their parents without any tracking system or provisions for family reunification.

Facing the Facts

The public was appalled when stories emerged about immigrant children detained in cage-like structures without their parents. Public outcry may have curbed the policy of breaking up asylum-seeking families, but many problems remain, including the government's inability to reunite children with their parents. In many cases, the parents may have been deported without their children. According to The New York Times, the number of detained migrant children may have surpassed the 13,000 mark, and a significant number may have been moved to Texas tent cities that provide even less care for the children.

How Social Workers can Help

Social workers play a critical role in managing the situation, identifying family reunification strategies and advocating for the interests of children who may have been inadvertently abandoned in the process. Spanish-speaking professionals and volunteers with a social work degree are key players when it comes to communicating with families and young children.

There is an immediate need to create and enforce a system that will track the transfers of family members from one detention facility to the next. Social workers are trained to conduct intake interviews to gather information for a database that will document the whereabouts of family members as they move through the visa application process. It is difficult for immigrant families to communicate with people from the Department of Justice and the Health and Human Services department when their English language skills are inadequate. Children are especially vulnerable, and social workers can help to draw them out and extract information that may be useful to reconnect parents with their children.

A report prepared by the National Immigration Forum revealed that the family separation policy has not deterred asylum seekers coming from strife-torn Central American nations. Migration-related challenges will not be over soon especially with hundreds of migrant children still awaiting reunification. Put that social work degree to use as a volunteer or paid employee of organizations involved in resolving the immigration crisis, and become part of the solution.