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    Thursday, September 17, 2015

    Crossing the Line

      This posting is dedicated to the many immigrants and families who suffered any form of cultural oppression, ethnic intolerance, social injustice, human rights abuses, persecution, and spiritual suffering.

    Scope of the Problem

    Many undocumented immigrants have endured extensive suffering, trauma, oppression, abuse, violence, victimization, and cross-border human rights abuses (Bashah, Baca, & Suyemoto, 2015).  Common risks include exploitation, separation from support systems, poverty, and threats to survival (American Psychological Association, 2012). Amnesty International (2013) conservatively estimated that 60% of women and girls are raped or experience sexual violence during their journey crossing. A study conducted by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (2014) on unaccompanied children leaving Central America and Mexico for the U.S. identified push and pull factors that influenced decisions to endure life-threatening conditions to cross. The perilous journey that many undocumented immigrants take in crossing the Southwestern U.S. border involve using life savings or borrowed monies to pay coyotes, hired guides who cross immigrants through the U.S. – Mexico desert. Many immigrants face extreme and unrelenting conditions along the journey (Bashah, Baca, & Suyemoto, 2015), as illustrated in the following quote:
    Photo Courtesy Getty
    Source: Photo Courtesy Getty

    I crossed through the Rio Bravo... we walk and walk, we ran out of water. By chance we found a water dispenser for cows... We endured a lot... in that journey there was a pregnant woman who crossed the river with us. The temperature had decreased a lot when we were told to undress to cross the river. We passed through the river naked... the person I was most worried about was the pregnant lady, she crossed the river with all of her clothes on... We walked like 2 miles and the lady started feeling very sick, we told her to remove her wet clothes and among us we gave her some of our clothes. We felt that lady was going to die on us. What kept me going is my daughter, at the end I reached my objective but I suffered a lot, something I will never forget.

    Unique considerations of trafficked women include physical and sexual threat, forced prostitution, rape, extortion, and gender-based violence (Bashah, Baca, & Suyemoto, 2015).  Although not all undocumented immigrants who cross the Southwest border face coercion, exploitation, or other violations of human rights that constitute human and sex trafficking, the risks are prevalent (Bashah, Baca, & Suyemoto, 2015), as depicted in the following testimonial from an undocumented woman:

    They forced me to get me to the alley.... Inside were about 20 young women and six other women in a very ugly place. They stared at me. Then they took me out of there in the dark, and I was taken to another uglier house.  Then, they put me in there with my head down and shouted to me to give them information to take money from relatives... Then came a tall, graying man who said that if I did not give the telephone of my family, then I would have to pay with my body. When I saw that one was going to have sex with me, I began to cry and asked him how much he wanted. He asked for $8,000. I told him I was a woman alone and poor and would work in the U.S. with a friend who was helping me. I told him all scared and crying. I said, “I only have $5,000,” and was told it was fine. I was not going to be raped. He took me away to a corner. I waited a long time. I heard they called each other and raped a girl. She just cried.

    The risks and harm described above demonstrates the need for advanced state and national policies, social justice, and humanitarian efforts addressing the ongoing crisis and the need for international protection of vulnerable populations.

    Why You Should Care

    The risks and harm described above are antithetical to the values at the core of the United States constitution and to the foundation of human rights and justice. No person, citizen or not, documented or undocumented, should be subject to such experiences.  If we can shape policy to prevent trauma, we should do so. Furthermore, the women who told these stories hold on to hope for a better life, especially for their children and their families. One third of the 11.4 million undocumented immigrants have at least one U.S. citizen child residing with them in the U.S. (Migration Policy Institute, 2015).  First and second generation immigrant children are exposed to abhorrent living conditions that are related to immigration policies resulting in these families living within the margins of society (Suarez-Orozco, 2011).  These conditions and related traumas impact educational, physical, psychosocial, and emotional development (American Psychological Association, 2012). Such trauma creates even greater risk for children with caregivers who may be suddenly separated, detained, or deported.

    Hidden trauma and domestic violence prevalence rates are unknown, especially considering that many abuses occurring in homes remain unreported due to vulnerability, limited options for assistance, and fears of deportation and separation from children. The Immigrant Power and Control Wheel depicts how undocumented immigrants can become trapped in violent relationships with increased physical, economic, and emotional abuse (National Center on Domestic and Sexual Violence, 2012; see Figure 1).
    National Center on Domestic and Sexual Violence. (2012). Immigrant power and control wheel.
    Source: National Center on Domestic and Sexual Violence. (2012). Immigrant power and control wheel.


    Figure 1.  IMMIGRANT POWER AND CONTROL WHEEL (English (link is external) and Español (link is external)), adapted from the Power and Control Wheel developed by Domestic Abuse Intervention Programs (link is external), Duluth, MN.





    Costs of Keeping 11.4 Million Undocumented vs. Contributions of Immigrants

    With limited options for health care access, undocumented immigrants present to emergency rooms to obtain medical treatment, incurring approximately one-quarter of all uncompensated health costs (Congressional Budget Office, 2011).  Solutions that permit immigrants to make equitable contributions through special visas that provide immigrants with affordable health care coverage could offset these costs.  U.S. economic health and vitality is interdependent upon the immigrant population, who supplies labor across industries: hospitality, agriculture, construction, food service, healthcare, high-tech manufacturing, information technology, and life sciences (Cárdenas & Treuhaft, 2013).

    Call for Action

    The actual immigrant experience is generally neglected by mainstream media, and when it is depicted, often grossly misrepresented. Anti-immigrant political rhetoric only serves to further dehumanize and vilify immigrant populations, creating a polarized political narrative on immigration policy.

    An important question to consider is how our current policy may be contributing to the destabilization of our borders and actually fueling cartel power and humanitarian crises. By providing legal channels, undocumented immigrants will have increased options without resorting to desperate acts that endanger them and removes the stronghold of cartels preying upon vulnerable populations. Thus, a call for action includes the following areas:

        Need for immigration policy reform.
        Need to include safeguards that protect immigrants from violence, victimization, sex and human trafficking, and human rights abuses.
        Need to present immigrants with better options so they are not prey for cartels, human traffickers, or agents who abuse their power of authority to victimize immigrants.
        Need for international protection of at-risk populations.
        Need for inclusion to restore human value, dignity, respect, and human rights with which immigrants are being treated.

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     This topic brought to you from psychologytoday.com
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