The family reunification program was such an eye opener on the devastation that the zero-tolerance immigration policy brought to so many families. As a case worker, I saw this impact firsthand in my work with families struggling to regain a sense of normalcy after the heartbreaking separation.
For example, one family was assigned to my caseload. After many failed phone call attempts I drove to the home address. When I arrived at the home, I could see people looking through the blinds – and they did not want to open the door for me. They seemed frightened.
I waited outside, showed them my badge, and eventually they cracked the door open enough for me to be able to tell them who I was and what I was doing in their home. They finally let me in, and I am so grateful for the opportunity that I had to represent a different kind of professional than what they were expecting to have knock on their door.
The family was happy and relieved to know that my intentions were to provide them with resources such as medical, attorney referrals, community food pantries, school enrollment support and free clothing information. Our agency was able to connect them with an attorney who ultimately was able to file an asylum case on their behalf. All services were pro bono and all transportation was provided without charge.
Providers were also able to give one of the boys in the family a cell phone in case of emergencies… and we even had a birthday celebration for him. Our agency facilitated his school enrollment, adjustment and assimilation into his new school setting. In addition, we provided him with school supplies and back-to-school clothing.
Once the family trusted me, the father shared the trauma he experienced the moment he was separated from his 12-year-old son, immediately upon crossing the border. At first the family’s response upon seeing the immigration officer was to run – but then the father decided it would be better to cooperate with the officer. He saw the fear on his son’s face, and assured him that if they cooperated everything would be okay. Shortly thereafter, they were separated with no explanation.
The father continues to experience post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms, reliving his son’s anguished look and his horrible cries when they were separated. The father told to me that he feels that he let his son down.
The family was extremely grateful for the services provided. They have maintained a relationship with this agency and contact us from time to time to check in and express their gratitude.
As a social worker it has been an honor to serve these families. Just seeing the children transform from fearing your visit to smiling over a backpack has made this process so worth while for me. It has truly changed my life and the life of all those I have served.
To me, the work I do represents an America that can transform fear into welcome. That is the country I hope we can be.
In January of 2019, LIRS launched the My America campaign to lift up the voices of refugees, migrants, faith leaders, and Americans wishing to express an experience or vision that inspires hope. In a time where our newsfeeds are flooded with discouraging headlines about immigrants, this campaign seeks to offer an alternative vision for an America that embraces all those seeking protection. Submit your own story today, or check out more stories like this one!