Session: Immigration Detention: The Racialized Response to Violence and Trauma (Society for Social Work and Research 24th Annual Conference - Reducing Racial and Economic Inequality)

169 Immigration Detention: The Racialized Response to Violence and Trauma

Friday, January 17, 2020: 5:30 PM-7:00 PM
Independence BR C, ML 4 (Marriott Marquis Washington DC)
Cluster: Immigrants and Refugees (I&R)
Sergio Serna, LCSW, University of California, Los Angeles, Angela Garcia, B.A., University of California, Los Angeles, Anthony Gómez, B.A., University of California, Los Angeles, Fatima Gonzalez, B.A., University of California, Los Angeles and Marianna Hernandez, B.A., University of California, Los Angeles
Background: Recent data indicate the U.S. apprehended 92,607 migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border in March, 2019, the highest monthly total since April, 2007. (Pew Research) The recent wave of migration has been marked by two unique factors: refugees are migrating as family units more than ever and the number of people from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras together accounted for the bulk of apprehensions. In February, 2019, days after the Trump Administration declared a National Emergency at the border, four Latinx students from the Master's in Social Welfare program at UCLA, arrived in the rural town of Dilley, Texas. Joining volunteer lawyers, the team's role was to provide legal assistance to detained mothers and children undergoing the Credible Fear Interview process. The students, accompanied by department faculty, embarked on an intensely personal and professionally poignant journey to address this humanitarian crisis. In collaboration with Dilley's on-the-ground legal team, the students conducted interviews of women and their children to determine their clients' strongest claims for asylum. While seeking and documenting their testimonies, students learned of women's harrowing accounts of traversing multiple countries with their young children, their terrifying crossing at the Rio Grande, and dehumanizing conditions in U.S. Customs and Border Patrol facilities.

Methods: As a result of the experience, the team created a set of tools for advocates assisting newly arrived Central American refugees. The three key resources include: (1) an educational and outreach video documenting the experience of volunteer advocates and their clients; (2) a case example demonstrating the utility of exploring trauma narratives for providers struggling with secondary trauma; and (3) transdisciplinary recommendations aimed to decrease re-traumatization of detained immigrant clients through use of trauma-informed perspectives and practices.

Results: The perpetuation of dangerously false narratives, racialized narratives, paints Central American refugees as criminals. This is facilitated by existing systems of oppression including racism. The fact that these sentiments are promoted by the world's highest political office has broad implications for both micro and macro-level social work practice. Through disseminating these additional tools to better address the needs of newly arrived Central American refugees, this toolkit seeks to document helpful responses to the real national emergency—xenophobia.

Conclusions and Implications: Continued conversation must bring together researchers, educators, students and staff of organizations serving the most vulnerable racial/ethnic minorities whose life experiences led them to the U.S. We must acknowledge that a legal perspective alone is insufficient, akin to working with one hand tied behind our backs. The law often operates in a black and white paradigm, making it sometimes difficult to recognize the humanity of all people. Through dialogue we look to demonstrate why and how social workers and their perspective is uniquely suited for intervening with this population. This work is rooted in the narratives of the women and their children, those who participated in this journey and those seeking to provide culturally humble services and effective policy advocacy on behalf of impacted communities—all of which will serve as a continuous reminder of the power of resilience.

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