The Lone Child
Fall of 1995, my two (2) brothers and I came to this country from the Dominican Republic with my late grandmother. I remember that day as if it was yesterday. Waking up bright and early, driving to the airport, and going inside that plane was exciting but scary. I remember my grandmother clenching my hand as the airplane took off from the runway and my ears popping as the airplane reached a higher elevation. Once we landed, I was amazed with the airport and size of the buildings around New York city. It was one of the best days of my life.
Unfortunately, not every child has had the same experience. The United States’ southwest border has seen a spike in families attempting to cross the border into the United States from South America. These families leave their homes, walk hundreds of miles, and even pay “coyotes” to smuggle them across the border. A “coyote” is an individual who works for an organization who are dedicated to smuggling humans across the border. These families risk everything they have and leave their homes in a pursuit of a better life. Unfortunately, after paying the coyote a quantity of money, the families are either defrauded or just dumped somewhere near the border to fend for themselves. These families are then forced to walk and go through dangerous situations that can cause negative lifelong effects on their children and themselves.
When crossing the border, families also risk being detained by Homeland Security agents guarding the border and risk having their children separated. Some children have been seen arriving to the border with no adult present. These children have been known to suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorders, that affect their mental health in the long run. According to the American Psychological Association, “PTSD symptoms were significantly higher for children of detained and deported parents compared to citizen children who parents were either legal residents or undocumented without prior contact with immigration enforcement. (Nami,Martinez, 2021)” Further research shows that these children remain fearful that there will be another time where they are separated from their parents.
The detainment of migrant children and separation from their parents has caused heated debates amongst Americans. As mentioned above, the separation of a child from its parents can cause long lasting effects but how do we prove that these children belong to these individuals identifying themselves as the parents or guardians? Coyotes have also been known to sexually traffic juveniles into the United States for profit. Our society has seen many Human Trafficking cases coming from different countries and entering the United States. What do we need to do to better handle migrant children entering the country without a parent or guardian present?
(National Alliance Mental Illness, 2021)
As of now children who are separated from their parents are held at in holding facilities with other children. While in detention, Custom Border Protection agents determine if the child qualifies as an unaccompanied child. While waiting, these children can be placed into shelters, foster homes, group homes, etc.
While the government attempts to figure out what the child’s verdict should be, I believe we should invest into these holding facilities, group homes, foster homes, etc to make sure these children are receiving the care they need. Providing a good nutritional meal, exercise, living conditions, and education, can alleviate the PTSD or trauma a child may be dealing with. Providing video conference calls with families back home or in the United States can also assist in the process while they wait for the courts to proceed. We should further invest in counseling for these children who are held in these facilities. Attempting to figure out the problems and motivation for attempting to cross the border will help us understand how to help these families. Another way to help alleviate the stress and trauma in these children is to provide better funding for the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR).
The ORR is an organization where migrant children are sent to. Unfortunately, these facilities are separated and miles away from where the child’s parents might be being held. Providing funding for more southwest border locations will prevent children from being separated and keeping them closer. The farther away a child is from their parents, the better chance for that child to lose contact. Another way to alleviate the trauma is to transform these holding facilities into more welcoming, hospital like locations and not so much like a prison.
In conclusion, while I understand that migrants are attempting to enter the country at record breaking numbers, the United States must do their best to understand why these people are attempting to enter. Let’s provide better funding for the facilities near southwest border. Turn these facilities into hospitals and triage centers that better evaluate family relationships and the vetting process. Evaluating family relationships as fast as possible will prevent families from having to be broken up. This is an issue that is never going to stop, so instead of trying to stop it, let’s figure out a way to make it better and less harming.
Children are still being separated from their families at the border. Vera Institute of Justice. (n.d.). Retrieved August 9, 2022, from https://www.vera.org/news/children-are-still-being-separated-from-their-families-at-the-border
Council on Foreign Relations. (n.d.). U.S. detention of child migrants. Council on Foreign Relations. Retrieved August 9, 2022, from https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/us-detention-child-migrants
Trauma in children of Latinx immigrants. NAMI. (n.d.). Retrieved August 9, 2022, from https://www.nami.org/Blogs/NAMI-Blog/February-2021/Trauma-in-Children-of-Latinx-Immigrants