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Trauma Survivor Speaks out on the Outrageous Trauma Inflicted on People Who Need Compassion


Mother and child at the Border

In our current political climate, there is much to be disappointed about and much more to be disgusted over. The latest political outrage is knowing our government is removing children from their parents as they flee unimaginable horrors from their country of origin. These are people who want to make a better life for themselves and their children. Gangs, wars, drugs and human trafficking are social conditions any of us would want to flee and find a safe passage to another country — especially to a country known for being a nation of immigrants—The United States of America.


Under this current administration, our country’s reputation has changed to a nation of collective trauma. As a social worker and survivor of childhood trauma, it appears to me that we are doing this on a wide scale to thousands of children and parents who are seeking a better life. Recent news stories about how these immigrants are mistreated are horrifying. We as a collective electorate need to stand up and speak out to stop these hateful practices.


What is it like to be a victim of trauma? This is the question I want to ask our leaders who are making policy of separating families who are coming across the border to America. I’d like to share what it's like to be removed from family and placed in an environment that lacks the love and protection of those who have our best interests at heart.


Families are the foundation of any social structure. It is through the family that we learn we are loved and wanted, protected and cared for. We belong. Belonging is a basic human need, and with this sense of belonging we are able to contribute to the world and make it a better place for the next generation. Without a sense of belonging, we move into fear, seeking safety wherever we can and engage in a constant state of stress as we no longer have a safe place to go or people who can help us regulate the stress response.


Loss of a parent to death, abandonment or separation is one of the most heart-wrenching experiences a child can endure. Separating a child from the basic foundation of belonging leaves a wounding of grief that is so deep it may never heal. Loneliness, isolation and despair become emotional norms rather than wholeness, health and happiness. Looking for others who will be surrogate parents or caretakers becomes a mission for these children to find the peace of belonging again so that they may cope with the unpredictability of life. When that “trusted” other does not appear, or they do and later the child feels a sense of betrayal because that person leaves or turns against them, the lesson learned is that the world is an unsafe place.


When the stress response cannot go back to a state of balance, the body reacts to any environmental trigger in which our sense of safety is threatened. We walk around in a state of panic, looking over our shoulder to make sure we can gage the environment and seek safety before a crisis occurs. This state of hypervigilance takes its toll on the body in overdrive.


Parents who are separated from their child experience the same trauma. Worry, despair, panic and stress take their toll on parents who made the decision to seek refuge in another country. Now, however, they sit in a jail cell on a misdemeanor charge, worrying if they will ever see their children again. Guilt, despair, panic and stress overwhelm them as they sit with nothing to do but think about their children and hope for reunification. Add to this the fear of deportation to the very environment of violence they wanted to escape from. This creates a traumatic experience that will last a lifetime and be passed down to future generations.


Is this who we are as a nation? This is an urgent question we need to address, as it determines who we are as Americans. Are we willing to allow these inhumane conditions in one of the wealthiest nations to continue? Are we really willing to set up tent cities for children? Are we willing to send them back to a country where they risk certain death or torture? Seriously? We are better than this.


Unresolved or unrecognized trauma is the largest health crisis we have in this nation, but this is a truth we do not want to address. Americans who care about human rights can begin to change this by exposing the truth and consequences of the policies and actions of our elected leaders. We can speak out loudly and clearly so our government will stop creating widespread trauma for other families who are only trying to escape other traumatic experiences. We must address these policies head on and call them out for what they are—inhumane.


Watching these news stories is saddening. One story remains with me and encapsulates the current state of affairs for these children and parents suffering from the actions of elected officials who have no empathy.


This news report began by showing a shelter for children hidden in a California neighborhood. It was enclosed by green sheeting that had the children from view. When it became known that such a shelter was in this neighborhood, residents were bewildered, enraged and saddened. One man in particular took this situation to heart, as he was abandoned by his parents and left in a chicken wire cage. He was later adopted, but the experience of abandonment in a cage has left a deep scar he will never be able to heal. How can he?


This is wrong, it is horrific, and we, as a nation, are doing the same thing to children who are coming here for a better life. We are abandoning children in wire cages without their families, their tribe. Is this the message about America we want to give out to the world? In closing, it is time for “We the People” to uphold the wisdom of our greatest icon—Lady Liberty.


The New Colossus


By Emma Lazarus, 1883


Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame, With conquering limbs astride from land to land; Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame. "Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

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