Family separations at Mexican border felt throughout Alaska
Separating parents from their children can be traumatic enough for the parent. It is estimated that more than 2,300 children have been separated from their parents between May and June as part of the Trump administration's effort to deter illegal border crossings.
"We see the terrible impact that trauma can have on the physical and emotional health of families," Catholic Social Services Executive Director Lisa Aquino said. "Particularly in children. This policy that is causing extreme trauma to children, it concerns us, we think about it all the time and we want it to change."
Catholic Social Services serves refugees and had 98 arrivals during fiscal year 2017. CSS serves their clients in the refugee program up to five years after their arrival in the United States. Gaining people's trust once they make it to the U.S. is often one of the most challenging aspects.
"With the change in policies with the government and at the executive level, the ways those policies were communicated, made people afraid," Aquino said. "It made people afraid to talk about where they were from or what their stories were. You have to understand, at least with the refugees we've worked with, they are often from places where the government was persecuting them. They don't know that here in the United States, that's not how our government works."
The Alaska Institute for Justice last year alone dealt with more than 900 immigrants and refugees coming to Alaska.
"As we harshen our response to people coming across the border, it increases the incidents that human trafficking will occur," Alaska Institute for Justice Executive Director Robin Bronen said. "It increases the incidents where trafficking will occur. Because people are desperate to get into the country to be safe. They will rely on people who could force them into human trafficking situations."
Tighter border control will also have a direct effect on neighborhoods across the country.
"The other consequence of all of this," Bronen said, "is we deal with an enormous amount of representation for immigrants who are crime victims. Whether it be human trafficking, domestic violence or sexual assault. We have worked really hard in this community to encourage immigrants to call the police if they are a victim of a crime. What's happening now is causing people to be afraid to do that. That has a consequence for all of us because there are people in our neighborhoods committing crimes. Now you have an immigrant who is a victim or witness to the crime and they don't feel comfortable calling the police. So the crime continues."
Bronen says about one-third of the 900 people coming to Alaska from other countries are fleeing because of abuse.
"We get a lot of people from Spanish speaking countries including Central America," Bronen said. "There are large immigrant communities, not only in Kodiak but also in Unalaska, as well. People from all over the world come to work in our fish processing plants. We have clients as far north as Utqiagvik and as far south as Ketchikan and in Nome and the Aleutians."
Bronen says many of the people who are being detained by the U.S. are being prevented from applying for asylum in the U.S., and part of the U.S. immigration laws are in place to protect immigrants so they may seek safety and security.
"It all keep people from talking," Aquino said. "Keeps them from reaching out, from seeking help and services like healthcare. That doesn't reflect our community. Anchorage is a welcoming place. The policy that is separating children from their parents is putting those children at extreme risk in the future and it breaks my heart."
For more information on Catholic Social Services and Alaska Institute for Justice click on the links provided here.
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