Abstract: Immigration and Social Work: How the Profession Can Advocate & Advance Social Justice Efforts in the United States (Society for Social Work and Research 24th Annual Conference - Reducing Racial and Economic Inequality)

30P Immigration and Social Work: How the Profession Can Advocate & Advance Social Justice Efforts in the United States

Thursday, January 16, 2020
Marquis BR Salon 6 (ML 2) (Marriott Marquis Washington DC)
* noted as presenting author
Lauren Ricciardelli, PhD, Assistant Professor, Troy University, Phenix City, AL
Larry Nackerud, PhD, Professor, University of Georgia, Athens, GA
Background/ Purpose: Changes to and enforcement of U.S. refugee and immigration policy under the Trump administration since the January 2017 inauguration have been described as unprecedented and draconian. From the promotion of a U.S. Southern border wall; to Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ announcement of a “Zero-Tolerance” policy in April 2018 that resulted in the separation of children from their families, and their subsequent detainment without a clear means to facilitate reunion; to the record low capping of refugees at 30,000 in September 2018; to the deployment of 5,000 U.S. soldiers to the Southern border and sanctioned use of tear gas on children and families trying to cross it in November 2018; to reports of industrial tent facilities in Tornillo, Texas housing nearly 3,000 children and adolescents (larger than any federal prison) without due process and without access to important resources; to marking migrants’ arms at the U.S.-Mexico border with identifying numbers in black permanent marker; to the death of seven-year-old Jakelin Amei Rosmery Caal Maquin from Guatemala while in U.S. custody. The purpose of this case study is two-fold: describe the detainment and deportation processes and their implementation at the infamous Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin, Georgia; and, discuss social work’s potential role, or lack of role, in these processes in general.

Methods: We collected data at the Stewart Detention Center, directly observing a sample of 39 immigration court case hearings across four separate time points between June and September of 2018. We use univariate statistics to describe the sample in terms of hearing duration, demographics of detained persons, characteristics of judge and attorney interactions, removability charges, and hearing outcomes. Our analysis includes mappings of two courtrooms and a thick and rich narrative description of our first trip to the Stewart Detention Center.

Results: Identified themes across court observations include: (1) lack of uniformity in process; (2) adoption of criminal justice norms and procedures without inclusion of protective factors; (3) layers and barriers to communication that present as isolating; and (4) a seeming emphasis placed on the ‘voluntary departure’ option.

Discussion and Implications: The social work profession has a role to play in the discourse on immigration policy, and should make contributions through research, evidence-based practice, policy practice, and advocacy guided by the ethics of the profession. As social work professionals, we should understand where the current immigration policies stand in relation to our professional ethics, and accordingly, how we should situate ourselves within systems of care working with immigrant populations. As such, social workers should: (1) provide services to children and families in non-detention settings; (2) protect the safety of children and families; (3) collaborate with advocates to meet the comprehensive needs of children and families; (4) utilize advocacy and organizational skills to educate the public about immigration policy and human rights; and finally, (5) use policy and research skillsets to affect immigration reform.