Children are being separated from their parents at the US-Mexico border, exacerbating terror and uncertainty in an already difficult situation.
America is keeping children in cages. A cage that you normally might see at a low-budget zoo holding parakeets or monkeys are now in migrant detention centers, restraining the liberty of Latin American kids. These children are being separated from their parents at the US-Mexico border and held in Office of Refugee Resettlement-run centers, the conditions of which are inhumane.
In the centers, children have been reported to have poor access to sanitation, food, and water. Children sleep with foil sheets as their blankets while bright overhead lights glare 24/7. In addition to the physical conditions, these children have not had the chance to just be kids; it has been reported that no books or toys were provided at the centers for the kids to pass time. The lack of adults forces kids to mature and be parental figures for the young, changing diapers instead of learning pre-algebra as they were supposed to.
In the centers, children suffer mentally and physically. In addition to the conditions they must endure, detained children also report loss of appetite, loss of concentration, and anxiety, clearly demonstrating mental anguish from this situation. However, this is not a temporary issue for the children. The long term effects of detentions alongside family separation are detrimental to kids’ health. In these centers, they are exposed to toxic stress: emotional stress triggered by mentally demanding occurrences (like family separation) that continue for an extended period of time. Toxic stress could lead to detrimental mental deficits, such as development in anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, hypertension, and heart disease.
These centers have existed since 2003. Originally, the Immigration and Naturalization Service had the responsibility of supervising the children, but in 2003, unaccompanied immigrant minors were placed in the care of the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), which created and runs these centers. They are a place for Unaccompanied Alien Children (UAC) to be held and protected while awaiting future processing in immigration status in the United States of America. UAC are defined by the ORR as minors who do not have a parent or legal guardian with governmental permission in the USA who can care for them. “Unaccompanied” has been a term that has recently taken a different and dramatic definition than most might think; this is exemplified by the allegation that border customs are pointing to traffic violations as evidence for the inability to care for a child.
Future for the Children in Custody
In terms of these kids getting back to their parents, the future is bleak. There are a number of issues in the system. According to the former acting director of ICE, there are many obstacles that keep separated kids from returning to their parents. The complex process of physical separation, time, and rematching children and parents make it entirely possible that a son or daughter may never see their family again. These factors push many children to be assigned to a foster care system led by the ORR. Foster care is defined as a non-permanent situation in which children are cared for by people who are not their parents, either by individuals who are related or non related, or a group setting. Being in a foster care system comes with its own set of challenges, including mental, social-developmental issues and the threat of a subpar future. Children in foster care are more likely to be human trafficked, implicated with the legal system, lack education, and in need of financial assistance and housing. Clearly, the children will not only be disadvantaged by being separated from their parents, which causes trauma and mental health issues, but also by being put in a system which has shown its faults in the development of minors.
Current Statistics and Events
The amount of children that this has affected is astonishing. An estimate from January 2020 predicts around 4,368 families had been separated at the US-Mexico border. Due to the severity of the issue, current numbers may be much higher. Government statistics show that at the end of July, there were 997 children in custody.
Due to the COVID 19 pandemic, there have been federal court orders from the central district of California to remove the children from the centers, putting Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE) under more pressure to release children. The situation must be closely monitored for developments, as government officials will be making decisions that can change these kids' lives.
Nonprofits Making an Impact
A nonprofit is an organization that exists not to make money for its owners, but to help a cause. They get official recognition by the government, as well as tax-exempt status if they get approved and get 501 © 3 status. Although the situation is dire, many nonprofits are putting in the effort to help the situation in various ways.
Immigrant Families Together
Immigrant Families Together (IFT) is a non-profit which dedicates itself to helping separated families by the border.
One of their objectives is to help immigrant families with bonds given to them by an immigration court, which if paid gives them freedom. These immigration bonds are put in place a lot like bail bonds for criminals, and are often too high for these immigrant families to pay. IFT helps get parents out of detention and to their children.
IFT also offers families representation in court. Being in the immigration system entails many court dates and legal matters, so it is crucial to have a professional who understands the system alongside them, but they usually come with a hefty fee. IFT helps connect families with low cost or free services, to facilitate their legal issues.
Another nonprofit helping immigrant children at the border that have been separated from their families is RAICES. RAICES is an organization based in Texas, which has already helped 4,700 immigrant children.
They provide assistance in legal matters, like IFT. They educate immigrant children of their rights and provide lawyers to help them when they are unaccompanied so they do not have to attend court alone. Their social help mission helps immigrant children after they have been released from the custody of detention centers, stabilizing their lives with support.
How You Can Get Involved
There are various ways to become involved with these organizations, and donating money towards their causes to help fund their supportive activities is a great way to start. If you have money you can spare or the ability to fundraise, consider giving to these organizations. IFT has an Etsy store that sells crafts you can purchase that were made by children; all proceeds go towards helping minors at the border. Both of these organizations have specific funds, where you can donate to whatever cause you see fit.
For those in economically difficult situations, time is also a valuable resource to donate. Both aforementioned organizations call for volunteers; you can join the Facebook group for your area to see possible volunteer opportunities for IFT and review RAICES website for tasks they need help with. RAICES has openings for both youth and adults, and both Texans and people who live out of state. There are many ways to help, so be sure to not not let your restrictions prevent you from uplifting the minors at the border.