Mental-health expert outlines trauma migrant children face when separated from families

Border Report

Report: US officials release data to assist with reunifications

FILE – In this Dec. 11, 2018 file photo, an asylum-seeking boy from Central America runs down a hallway after arriving from an immigration detention center to a shelter in San Diego. The Trump administration will make a case in court to end a longstanding settlement governing detention conditions for immigrant children, including how long they can be held by the government. A hearing is scheduled before a federal judge Friday, Sept. 27, 2019, in Los Angeles over the so-called Flores settlement. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull, File)

EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) — Freshly released information could help to reunite migrant families separated at the U.S.-Mexico border in 2017 and 2018.

Late Wednesday night, the Justice Department’s Executive Office of Immigration Review provided legal advocates with contact information paramount to reunite migrant parents and children, including phone numbers. 

The Trump administration has faced widespread criticism for its family separation policies that have resulted in people being held in “cages,” lost children, and unspeakable trauma compounded by the inherent stress of migration. 

“Migrant children and their families experience a great number of stressors throughout their pre-migration, flight, and resettlement experiences that impact their psychological well being,” Angela Barraza, trauma-informed care specialist at the El Paso Child Guidance Center tells KTSM. 

According to Barraza, there is a multitude of social, emotional, and cognitive complications that can occur from migrant children being separated from their parents.

“Migrant children may have symptoms including anxiety, recurring nightmares, insomnia, secondary enuresis, introversion, relationship problems, behavioral problems, academic difficulties, anorexia, somatic problems, as well as anxiety and depressive symptoms,” she said.

“Sad, empty, hopeless, loss of interest, worry, fear, fatigue, irritability, restlessness,” she continued.

A nine-month negotiation process between lawyers for the DOJ and migrant families resulted in an $8 million agreement to provide mental-health screenings and counseling through which thousands of migrants never went. 

Last month, sources from the Office of White House Counsel confirmed the Trump administration killed the 2019 deal with the DOJ to provide mental health services for migrant families separated at the border under the administration’s policies.

Migrant children often come to the U.S. already exposed to trauma. 

Wartime violence and combat experience, as well as displacement, malnutrition, and a lack of stability, inhibit a child’s mental health and general well-being. 

Migrant children are susceptible to suffer from post-traumatic stress that includes symptoms of reliving the trauma, flashbacks, numbness, hypervigilance, avoidance, and more. 

“The need to address trauma is an important component of effective behavioral health service delivery,” Barraza said. “People can overcome traumatic experiences with appropriate support and intervention.” 

Access to mental health care is vital to migrant children.

“Mental health care and therapy helps build resilience and reduce symptoms of trauma and post-traumatic stress,” Barraza says. “It may help them overcome their experience of trauma and help them heal from the trauma.”

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