Martha Pinones is a therapist who works with immigrant and refugee children who came to the U.S. without their families at the St. Francis Community Services’ Southside Center on Delor Street. She says her work with those children, and the conditions in which migrant children are being held at “detention centers” near the U.S.-Mexico border, convinces her that children being held in those centers will probably be permanently damaged by the experience.
“Those children were already traumatized by conditions in their home country, by the long trip to the United States, and by being forcibly separated from their parents,” Pinones said on The Jaco Report. “The additional trauma of these camps will add up to a permanent change in their emotional and mental functions.”
“These children are now not going to be able to make emotional connections in the brain. It definitely will impair their schooling, their ability to communicate. All of these different areas that are very second nature to development are being stopped by this trauma that they are experiencing,” she said, adding that the cognitive damage could very well last the rest of their lives.
Meredith Rataj is a therapist who works mostly with adult immigrants and refugees at the St. Francis center, an arm of Catholic Charities. She said that the crackdown by President Donald Trump’s administration on nonwhite immigrants and asylum-seekers had led to a rise in reports of bigotry against immigrants from both white and black St. Louisans.
Rataj recalled the recent case of one of her clients.
“What is the most difficult thing about being an immigrant now in St. Louis? she was asked. And she said that she understands English, but she doesn’t speak it very well, so she hears comments when she’s out and about all the time and she’s not able to defend herself very well, but it’s the hatred that she feels that makes her feel unwelcome.”
Also joining The Jaco Report discussion on immigration was Javad Khazaeli, a St. Louis Iranian-American immigration lawyer who came to the U.S. when he was 2. He worked for President George Bush’s Department of Homeland Security, prosecuting terrorism cases.
“There is a plan in place that is being executed to de-humanize these people,” Khazaeli said of DHS under Trump. “The horrors of the full-on assault on both unlawful immigration and legal immigration is daily. Literally every morning I open my email to just see what kind of new crazy thing I’m dealing with.”
As an example, Khazaeli pointed to an immigration initiative called “parole in place,” which was set up years ago for low-risk undocumented immigrants who had a family member serving on active duty in the U.S. armed forces.
“Parole in place is a special program for family members of active military members to have a special procedure that’s been here for years, to help active military families. That program’s being shut down in the next 30 days. The assault’s across the board,” he said, noting that shutting down the program so family members of on-duty military members can be more easily deported seems to be based less on security concerns than on simple bigotry.