Methods: The collective case study method was adopted to explore the experiences of undocumented families who were reunified with their children with the help of a community organization. The sample was recruited at a CBO in Miami, FL, between February and September 2021. In-depth semi-structured interviews were conducted. Qualitative data were collected from six parents and four CBO staff. Grounded theory and thematic analyses were used. The interviews were transcribed and coded to identify central themes and illustrate the results.
Results: Respondent parents were females from Mexico and Central America. They expressed their rationale for allowing their children to cross the U.S/Mexico border, their experience with the ORR, and the reasons they pursued community-based guidance. All parents stated their children departed from their country with a trusted adult (often a relative). However, upon arrival at the U.S/Mexico border, the children were forcibly taken from the caregiver and declared unaccompanied under federal law. Children were sent, without their caregivers, to shelters for approximately 40 to 70 days. The parents expressed distress as they could not learn if the children were safe or identify their location. Producing the documents required by the social workers was another source of difficulty. Findings indicate that respondents believed their undocumented status was a major impediment. All parents stated that communication with the ORR was frustrating and that friends/families referred them to the CBO for support and to navigate a complex system.
Implications: The ORR can increase its efficiency and partner with trusted community organizations. Such CBOs have the procedural expertise to serve as liaisons with families and Federal bureaucracies. CBOs can guide and coach families as their work through the byzantine reunification process. These strategic alliances can increase the likelihood and speed of family reunification and preserve assets (financial and human), and mitigate trauma. Educating social work practitioners about the function and availability of CBOs’ support can help them better aid their clients with reunification issues. Increasing awareness can advance policy advocacy and alert educators to childhood toxic stress experienced from separation to enhance preventative measures.