In my conversations with leaders of Christian faith-based organizations (FBOs) in the DMV area, they repeatedly mentioned the word “trauma.” One leader called the immigrants’ experience “the trifecta of trauma.” 

  • Trauma from violence and persecution in their home country. 
  • Trauma from leaving their homes and the dangerous journey to the United States. 
  • Trauma from the arduous process of seeking asylum. 

Asylum is a protection granted to someone who arrives at the U.S. border or is already in the United States and meets the international law definition of a “refugee.” The U.S. has a legal obligation to provide this protection under both U.S. and international laws and treaties. Yet, the process of applying for asylum is highly complicated, and there are not enough resources to ensure the protection of vulnerable people at the U.S. borders. In 2020, there were over 1.3 million pending immigration cases, including asylum hearings. The average wait time for an immigration hearing is more than 2.5 years. The lack of immigration judges, long wait times, and limited access to legal aid negatively impacts “one of the most vulnerable groups of non-citizens currently in the U.S. immigration system: women and their children.”

Women and children were also disproportionately affected by the Trump administration’s “zero-tolerance” policy. Under this policy, adults who crossed the border without permission were detained and criminally charged. There were no exceptions to this policy, even for parents who were arriving with young children. The children were taken from them and sent to government custody or foster care. In the spring of 2018, nearly 45 children were being separated from their parents each day. The lasting effects of this trauma on both the parent and the child are immeasurable. Some FBOs work with immigrants and focus on either providing mental health services or acting as conduits to these services through outside professionals. 

The Pastoral Migratoria (PM) began in the Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago in 2008. It is an immigrant-led, lay leadership ministry that focuses on Catholic teaching on social justice, service, and accompaniment in the Latin American immigrant community. In January 2021, the Archdiocese of Baltimore began this program in five local parishes. According to Ms. Lia Salinas, Director of Hispanic Ministry, Baltimore’s PM will focus on assisting people with immigration status, finding better-paying jobs, and improving access to health care. Lay leaders respond to the specific needs of their parish communities and organize workshops and provide resources for topics including immigration, labor, domestic violence, and mental health. Additionally, working with Catholic Charities, immigrants are assisted with access to health care, mental health care, and legal assistance.

Author: Bailey Haraburda