Friday, July 11, 2014

The Horror of Unaccompanied Minors

Friday, July 11, 2014

Lately I have been hearing (with a bit of pained horror but sadly, and tellingly, no surprise) about the burgeoning population of unaccompanied minors who have been crossing the United States-Mexico border into Texas.  The population of kids fleeing countries in Latin America in the hope of finding a better life in the States has grown explosively in just a few years.  I haven't read up deeply on all the circumstances prompting this exodus but I suspect it's due to a combination of factors including loss of parents, instability in the countries they grew up in and the violence of local drug cartels.  A sobering article in the Huffington Post claims tens of thousands of unaccompanied children are attempting to cross the border into the United States...and that this flow of refugees (correctly termed in my opinion) is not expected to wane any time soon.

Our own economy in this nation is still struggling to fully recover some six years after the financial crisis erupted.  I have been a first hand witness to the issues of poverty, lack of opportunity and despair in this nation.  It has been over three years since I completed graduate school in California.  At the time I had a starry eyed hope that I would find a 'real job' which would be commensurate with my extensive skill set.  It hasn't happened yet.  Sometimes I feel my resistance to despairing about my situation is about as strong as the border erected to keep those deemed unwanted and undesirable from crossing into the United States from Mexico.  I try not to think too much about my own situation because it can prove so profoundly depressing.  It's no wonder I am still in therapy even now.

It's painful for me to think about this refugee crisis because it simply brings up old memories of my own childhood in Texas.  You know times are desperate when people are actually fleeing into Texas from another place in the hope of a better life.  Yes, I have a negative bias against Texas...and rightly so given my early life history.  I don't have a rigid belief based in my own personal worldview that we should automatically turn people away at the border but I have to ask the pragmatic question of what are we to do with all of them?  When Texas and other Southwest states become hosts to tens of thousands of children who are effectively stateless persons just what is the best policy response?  I think I can accurately answer by citing one example of a bad policy response.  A bad response would be something like scapegoating or demonizing them.  Or you could do what people in our two party political system here in the United States do a lot: you could point fingers at someone else.

The issue of displaced people throughout the world was recently the focus of a blog on the New York Times webpage.  It's sobering to learn that there are currently approximately fifty million displaced people throughout the world.  That is approximately one-sixth the population of the United States.  It is equivalent to the entire population of California with an additional thirteen million thrown in for good measure.  Displacement from your home or country of birth can be quite a stressor.  Add in the shock of war, famine or persecution and the stressor can ultimately prove traumatizing.

As I increasingly recall the immense sadness I felt throughout much of my childhood I realize that I often felt like the equivalent of an unaccompanied minor as well.  It is true that I had caregivers but they weren't able to be very present to the full range of my needs.  And they certainly proved essentially incapable of recognizing the harm that was being done to me as a result of the abuse I experienced.

Displaced adults who have nonetheless predominantly enjoyed stable, productive lives are, in my opinion, likely to fare better than displaced children.  And this would be especially true for children who have no consistent caregivers or predictability in their lives.  When children experience trauma early in their lives it can take a very long time to heal.  Healing is nonetheless very possible.  But it takes time and concerted focus.

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