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Fracturing Families Fractures Communities

By Risa Wilkerson on June 28th, 2018

In the country that I call home, there are thousands of people who have been torn apart from their families. At best, this is a short-sighted immigration policy “fix” without a long-term strategy; at worst, it’s a political bargaining tool to advance other, marginally less-horrific agendas. Regardless of the initial intent of this practice, the result is that our government has inflicted lasting trauma on entire communities. This is counter to everything I believe we try to uphold in our country’s values, and certainly counter to Healthy Places by Design’s values of Equity, Community, Integrity, and Collaboration.

Last week on our blog, my colleague Sarah Strunk talked about Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and shared ways to incorporate resilience-building practices and policies into community-level work. The ramifications of trauma and toxic stress are well-researched and documented (for example, here, here, here, and here). What’s happening at our southern US border is causing just this type of harm: increased health risks that are both immediate and long-lasting.

What’s more, there are also vulnerable populations throughout the country living in constant fear about how policies—immigration and otherwise—will or won’t be enforced. Many people are skipping medical care as a result, which has direct impacts on broader community health ranging from crowded emergency rooms to higher health premiums to higher rates of real and perceived violence. And we know that the larger the gap between rich and poor, and socially-supported and socially isolated people, the worse the health outcomes are for everyone.

Healthy Places by Design is not an expert on immigration issues, but we know what works for health and wellbeing in communities. And we know that policies matter. They can cause lasting trauma or they can create thriving places where people feel welcomed, safe, and healthy.

Consider how you can partner with others by sharing your talents and speaking out together against family separation and indefinite detention; prepare by raising awareness and training others to mobilize; and progress by showing up, taking action, and donating to organizations working on these issues. This week, we’re highlighting the work of a few organizations that focus on immigration policy change:

  • Kids in Need of Defense (KIND) works to ensure that no child appears in immigration court without high-quality legal representation; advances laws, policies, and practices that ensure children’s protection and uphold their right to due process and fundamental fairness; and promotes durable solutions to child migration that are grounded in the best interests of children.
  • Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES) promotes justice by providing free and low-cost legal services to underserved immigrant children, families, and refugees in Texas. RAICES is a frontline organization in the roiling debate about immigration and immigrants in the world.
  • The Youth Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights advocates for the rights and best interests of unaccompanied immigrant children. The Young Center’s goal is to change the immigration system so that children in immigration proceedings are recognized as children, and best interests are made a part of the decision making process.

Creating healthy communities is not a zero-sum game—the better off even one community is, the better off we all are.

Risa Wilkerson

Executive Director

Action-driven optimist, abundance thinker, and simplicity seeker.