December 10, 2018 | Read more »
Yes, the unaccompanied children had to walk a long and treacherous path to arrive at our borders. But once here, the path doesn't necessarily get a lot better.
Principal Ben Davis of the G.W. Carver Preparatory Academy in New Orleans 9th Ward speaks of the 50 Latino students who joined the student body last August. "They know they could be deported at any point and that's a really, really terrifying reality for them.... The rates of trauma are really high." The school provides trauma screenings for students, in part because kids dealing with symptoms of trauma are much harder to teach. Additionally, many of the students hadn't had consistent education before arriving in the U.S., so not only are they learning English but they're catching up in math and science as well. The newly arrived students are also often bullied by other students.+
In Carver Prep, several of the teachers who had never before worked with students who didn't know English chose to travel (on their own dime) to Honduras over winter break to study Spanish. "That shows [my students] that I care about them, and they've responded," says one of the teachers, noting how his students peppered him with questions about their homeland when he returned.+
These children have so much they're dealing with once they arrive in the U.S.:
- trauma from their past experience
- culture shock
- fear of deportation at any time
- working through a very complicated legal system
- learning a new language
- building new relationships with peers in school, including bullying and peer pressure
- potentially building new relationships with parents or other relatives that they've not lived with for years
- catching up in other school subjects as well as learning English
- addressing pre-existing medical and dental issues, or new symptoms from stress and trauma
- sometimes trying to find jobs to help their families financially
- fear and worry for other siblings and family members still living in their country of origin
A study by Syracuse University found that two-thirds of unaccompanied minors do not have legal representation. Having a lawyer can make a huge difference in the outcome of legal proceedings: those with attorneys are far more likely to be allowed to stay in the U.S.** See Kids in Need of Defense (KIND) site for more about this.
As noted by Principal Ben Davis of Carver Prep, many of the children are dealing with symptoms of trauma and stress, such as depression and anxiety. Building trust with the children can be difficult; they are too used to keeping their guard up, plus barriers of culture and language can make it difficult to have children open up. Many cultures attach stigma to mental illness, so counselors who work with these groups try to avoid using the words "therapy" or "counseling," and instead refer to conversation or playing games. Organizations such as the Immigrant Child Affirmative Network (ICAN) and the National Child Traumatic Stress Network work towards providing holistic help and healing to children who have experienced trauma.
Our churches can be places of healing. As individuals, we can reach out and try to build relationships. There are visitation programs in many immigration detention centers. You may have immigrants in your community that would love to have English classes, help accessing services, a friend to stand with them through the legal process, someone to help connect them with doctors, dentists, and so forth. Pray for God's vision to see the needs, and to see where you may be able to be the light of Christ to someone in need.
+ "A New Orleans High School Adapts to Unaccompanied Minors," by Claudio Sanchez, April 07, 2015, www.npr.org. Click here for link to full article.
** "Many Unaccompanied Minors No Longer Alone, but Still in Limbo," by Pam Fessler, March 09, 2015, www.npr.org. Click here for link to full article.