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News & Press: Social Justice

Social Workers Need to Be Fervent Advocates for Immigrants and Refugees

Friday, April 19, 2019   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Duane Breijak
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Danielle Haskin, MSW


For the past few years, the Trump Administration’s policies on immigration and refugee resettlement have been unforgiving and distressing.  As we endeavor to rectify systemic inequalities, social workers must boldly and fervently advocate on behalf of immigrants and refugees.  With our political leaders labeling entire immigrant groups as “terrorists” and “rapists,”  family separations at the border, a travel ban targeting majority Muslim countries, attempts to end the DACA program, and the ever increasing power of ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement), immigrant and refugee families are living in near constant fear. Emboldened by a national discourse that has encouraged a hard line on allowing immigrants and refugees to safely enter and live in this country, hate crimes have markedly increased, aiding in the attempt to scare and silence the powerless. The ramped-up enforcement of these aggressive policies has resulted in the egregious treatment of individuals in immigration custody, stoked racial profiling from immigration and law enforcement officials, and enabled the callous deportation of families and unaccompanied children. 


In response to the Feds tightening immigration stance, city, county, and state governments have implemented sanctuary laws to add an additional layer of oversight and ensure due process in their local jurisdictions. Detroit and Ann Arbor have been labeled “sanctuary cities” because of their “anti-profiling ordinances,” prohibiting law enforcement officials from asking the immigration status of an individual that has not committed a crime. In 2017, Lansing declared itself a sanctuary city, but due to backlash over the declaration, the mayor promptly reversed the decision - although city police are still prohibited from asking about an individual’s immigration status. Kalamazoo officials reaffirmed its status as a sanctuary city in 2017, with the Vice Major declaring "We care about you. We will protect you. We are with you." 


More recently in Kent County, there was a public outcry after a U.S.-born latino Marine veteran with PTSD was handed over to ICE. In response, Kent County Sheriff, Michelle Latoya-Young, informed I.C.E that her department would not grant immigrant detainer arrests without a warrant from a judge. The head of I.C.E enforcement in Michigan and Ohio criticized the new policy, claiming the move was jeopardizing the safety of citizens. Sheriff Latoya-Young fired back, adding that “we believe it to be imperative that each detained person have access to due process and we will continue to require judicial oversight for all law enforcement agencies, including ICE.”


The deportation or detention of a loved one is emotionally traumatic for families, especially children.  Sudden and severe financial hardship can leave families unable to pay their bills or put food on the table. Adults may be fearful of allowing children to play outside, leading to a decrease in school attendance and participation in community activities. Although high rates of extreme stress, anxiety, and depression are reported, multiple barriers prevent access to necessary mental health services.


In a survey conducted by the Kaiser Foundation of individuals who had a family member deported or detained, it found that “nearly all respondents appeared to be experiencing symptoms of depression, with the majority having a positive score on a clinical depression-screening tool.” The emotional trauma of being separated from family members can compound previous trauma experienced in their home country or on their journey to the United States. And with an increasingly hostile attitude towards immigrants and the communities they call home, we only guarantee the spread of fear and uncertainty.


Last week in the Michigan State capital, House Bills 4083 and 4090, which would prevent local governments from restricting police assistance with federal authorities’ immigration policies with the addition of financial penalties for non-cooperative officials, moved one step closer to a vote on the floor. Alongside civil rights groups, mental health experts, and law enforcement leaders in some of the State’s urban areas, a vocal concern that the bills would siphon local resources (for a federal responsibility), encourage racial profiling, and may even prevent immigrants from reporting a crime. This isolates defenseless members of our communities and pushes them further into the shadows. 


This move should come as no surprise, as it mirrors a pattern of aggressive anti-immigrant policies from the Federal level. Department of Homeland Security Secretary, Kirstjen Nielsen, recently resigned her post amid rumors that the White House felt she wasn’t aggressive enough in her immigration policies and their enforcement. Social workers must remain vigilant as lawmakers attempt to impede local oversight of detainment requests. It is imperative that we provide an empathetic lens in the public discourse and educate community partners and elected officials on the pervasive effects of trauma, harnessing our collective voices to advocate on behalf of immigrant and refugee communities.










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