The California Association of School Social Workers (CASSW), National Association of Social Workers, California Chapter (NASW-CA), and the California Society for Clinical Social Work (CSCSW), believe it is paramount to critically reflect on and speak out against the ongoing pattern of mistreatment of refugees and migrants by U.S. Customs and Border Protection. As a social work community centered on the core values of social justice and dignity and worth of the person, we are appalled at the continued dehumanizing actions against migrants seeking asylum from horrific circumstances. The impact of the visceral images of agents on horseback wielding whips to corral and control Haitian migrants perpetrates and perpetuates the trauma and mistreatment of racially diverse individuals, and echoes the cruelties committed upon the communities of Black, Indigenous, and Persons of Color throughout America’s shameful history. We are not learning from that history and are tragically repeating the same mistakes that maintain a classist and ethnic hierarchy and reinforce systemic racism. We can, and need to, do better. 

Social workers constantly bear witness to and are called to respond to the damaging impact that these kinds of inhumane and offensive images, actions and policies have on the communities we serve. In response to these injustices and abuses, we are receiving nothing more than rationalizing statements and promises of change, time and time again. We need to move beyond rhetoric and demand accountability that decriminalizes refugees seeking asylum. The Constitution references the rights of individuals to be free of cruel and unusual punishment. It protects civil detainees from being deprived of their basic human rights. This mistreatment goes beyond the images that we happen to see depicted on the news, which are snippets of what the dark and violent reality of detention centers and Border Protection actions. Another harrowing example is of unaccompanied minors being placed in cages and subjected to dismal conditions at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. These are not isolated or unconnected incidents but show a pattern of problematic behaviors that is evidence of a culture of cruelty that must change.

Children are particularly vulnerable to the impacts of traumatic events like the ones we are seeing take place at our borders. Children often lack the skills to process and cope with the distressing videos they may see through the media.  These images can cause emotional and psychological stress, especially in those that cannot process the events with a trusted adult. Research shows us that children are at risk to develop acute stress reactions, fear, and anxiety, after observing events like these at our border, even if they do not personally know the victims. Schools are already overburdened with the stress of coping with multiple pandemics and the transition back to in-person learning.  Children and school communities should not be burdened with these events.  Further, it is difficult for schools to teach students empathy and non-violent ways to solve problems when the images are adults inflicting violence on others.  To protect our children and their future, these policies and practices must end.  

We ask our elected officials to do their job and not just make a statement about this incident but follow it with action and policy changes to oversee the treatment of migrants/immigrants/asylees.

With this statement we ask for the initiation of an oversight agency to monitor and stop this pattern of abuse and inhumane treatment. This oversight office, in consultation with human rights organizations, can monitor and ensure humane treatment is followed. The OIG is not enough, and we need a separate agency that can discipline, fire, and hold accountable all employees of the CBP. We do this in hospitals, residential facilities, but we do not do it for vulnerable migrants who have been mistreated for decades by our Customs and Border Protection agencies.

Our associations stand with refugees, asylees, and migrants who deserve equitably humane treatment, a trauma-informed response, and meaningful access to care. We call on social workers across the state of California and beyond to call your elected officials to hold them accountable to responding with swift and corrective action. We share our heartfelt gratitude to all of those in the field actively serving our most marginalized communities, being their advocates and partners toward safety and healing. We stand with you.