The Needs of Immigrant Children Crossing the Border


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Immigrant children may suffer from PTSD. Image by puravida.

Immigrant children may suffer from PTSD. Image by puravida.

Thousands of children wait for hearings to determine whether they will be deported or granted asylum since crossing the U.S. border.  These unaccompanied minors have a wide variety of both physical, social, and psychological needs.

Over 50,000 Immigrant Children Since October

CNN reporter Shannon Travis warns “over 50,000 children who have come to the U.S. since October” are from “noncontiguous countries like El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala.”  Travis reports the children “fled violence, including rape, gang activity and drug wars.”  Fox News places the number at 57,000, and it increases daily.

Senator John McCain of Arizona, a state on the receiving end of the influx of unaccompanied minors, favors sending the children back and increasing the capacity of embassies in the children’s home countries to handle more asylum requests.

Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont, however, is quoted by Travis as stating, “I’m not sure Americans all really feel that we should immediately send them back.”

Physical and Educational Needs

Regardless of whether they go back or stay in the United States, while the children are here, they need shelter and care.

The Washington Post reporter Jeanna Johnson notes: “Under current law, those children must be turned over to the Department of Health and Human Services within 72 hours.  They are then placed with relatives living in the United States or put in temporary housing while their cases are processed through the immigration court system — which can take years.”

Fox News writes the “no-show rate for the juvenile immigration court docket is about 46 percent” – which makes the idea of releasing the children to the community to live with family members or friends problematic.

In June, reporter Matt McGovern of reported on the humanitarian crisis. “1,200 are being housed at Joint Base San Antonio Lackland” where they are “receiving classroom education as well as medical and mental health services.” The youngest child at the time was three years old.

A former military facility in Maryland was rumored as a possible place to house some of the immigrant children, but the plan, has been withdrawn, according to Johnson.  State delegate Justin Ready worries the children will not have “proper health evaluations or background screenings.”

McGovern writes, “It’s estimated caring for those unaccompanied immigrant children, as the government calls them, will cost you more than two billion dollars this year.

Psychological Intervention for PTSD

Setting aside the eventual outcome, while the children are in the United States, psychological intervention, which is being provided in San Antonio, may alleviate their distress.

In 2003, research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association reported school children exposed to violence who suffered from PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) benefited from a “standardized 10-session cognitive-behavioral group intervention.” 

The researchers found that”after 3 months of intervention, students who were randomly assigned to the early intervention group had significantly lower scores on symptoms of PTSD.”  

Immigrant Children in Government Shelters Need Group Intervention

While the children are in housed by the government, it makes sense to provide group intervention in their own language while they are housed.  If they return to their countries of origin, it is a humanitarian issue.  If these unaccompanied minor immigrants are allowed to stay in the United States, intervention could save the country money on subsequent mental and physical health services.

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