WASHINGTON, D.C. (Ivanhoe Newswire) – Immigration policy represents one of the most divisive political issues in the United States right now. U.S. immigration policies have passionate supporters and ardent opponents, but those who study child health and welfare say that a growing number of child immigrants are caught in the middle—children who may suffer from trauma as a result of the immigration process.
Sixteen-year-old “Ana” and her younger sister live each day in limbo. “Ana” and her parents are unauthorized immigrants, separately fleeing Guatemala then reuniting in this country. “Ana’s” sister was born here and is a U.S. citizen.
“She was like, ‘Is our family going to get separated now?’ I did not know what to say to her basically, because what do you say to an eight year old who asks you that?”
A new study finds that there are an estimated 37,500 children who were granted refugee status last year. Also in 2016, an estimated 90,000 more undocumented minors arrived without formal refugee status. Many were sent to detention facilities.
David Murphey, PhD, a senior fellow at Child Trends, told Ivanhoe that those detention facilities “Are really not set up at all to be child-friendly.”
Murphey is director of the Child Trends Databank, which tracks and monitors issues that impact children. Family separation, economic worries, and concern about increased violence against immigrants may lead to toxic conditions for kids.
“Interfering with their health, sleep problems, anxiety, depression,” explained Murphey.
Murphey said parents can support their children and help alleviate stress by maintaining routines and keeping an open dialogue with them. While this family waits on their status, “Ana” continues to work hard at school and set an example.
“Ana” detailed, “It’s really important for me to stay and make my parents proud and make them know that they came here for the right reasons.”
The Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency, or ICE, shut down the family case management program, which housed about 630 refugee families while they awaited their asylum request. This means children are experiencing harsher conditions in adult detention centers.
Contributors to this news report include: Cyndy McGrath, Supervising and Field Producer; Milvionne Chery, Assistant Producer; Roque Correa, Editor and Videographer.
Produced by Child Trends News Service in partnership with Ivanhoe Broadcast News and funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation.