4 Investigates: Children caught in the middle of the immigration 'crisis' | KOB 4

4 Investigates: Children caught in the middle of the immigration 'crisis'

Chris Ramirez
April 03, 2019 10:55 PM

JUAREZ, MEXICO- Each child caught in the immigration system has a unique story, a reason why their parents made the choice to leave their homes and head for the United States. Many of the children have endured hardship, pain and suffering in Central American countries plagued with violence and corruption. 


“Children’s sense of physical and psychological safety has been threatened very significantly, especially for very young children,” said Stacey Frymeir, a child therapist with Las Cumbres Community Services, a group based in Northern New Mexico that has helped the state’s children overcome trauma for decades. In the last month, Las Cumbres’s mission expanded.

“We've begun to hear stories about things that have happened to families and children on their migration journey,” Frymeir said. 

Las Cumbres applied and received a federal government to help migrant children in New Mexico and El Paso.  The team is also traveling to Juarez, Mexico to help children at the family shelter “Casa del Migrante.”

KOB 4 met with behavioral health therapists from Las Cumbres in late March at Casa del Migrante, a shelter that normally assists 400 migrants a year. In 2018, that number jumped to 10,000.    

The Las Cumbres team started by talking to the unaccompanied minors, children sent to the United States without a parent or guardian.  One minor spoke with the team about the violence in his home country.  His story didn’t come as a surprise. 

“One of the things we have recognized is that there is a lot of violence,” Frymier said.  “There is a lot of community violence and a lot of domestic violence. They are literally afraid for their lives.” 

Since sitting a toddler down for an interview is impossible, the team uses playtime to interact with them; a little bit of play, a little bit of talk to gauge how the child is doing and to assess if that child has experienced any trauma.

“Even the separation from a primary caregiver can induce a sense of trauma,” Frymier said. “It has the impact on a very young child as though (the caregiver) is dead.”

After leaving the shelters, the children will scatter across the United States and wait, possibly years, for a day in court to have their asylum claim heard.  Therapists in their communities will be able to access information obtained by the Las Cumbres team. 

A complex problem

With a humanitarian crisis as large as the one playing out on the southern border and with 70,000 children showing up at the border and with churches, shelters and detention centers at capacity, the help from Las Cumbres can certainly feel like a drop in the bucket.  There is a growing concern the U.S. cannot handle the influx of migrants who are seeking asylum.  In late March, the nation’s top border official announced in El Paso the U.S. immigration enforcement system is at a breaking point.

“The increase in family units is a direct response to the vulnerabilities in our legal framework, for migrants and smugglers know that they will be released and allowed to stay in the US indefinitely pending immigration proceedings that could be many years out,” said Kevin McAleenan, commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection.  

President Donald Trump has threatened to shut down the southern border if the migration flow continues.

“If they don't stop them, we are closing the border” Trump stated during an impromptu news conference. “Close it.  And we'll keep it closed for a long time, I'm not playing games.  Mexico has to stop it.  They have people coming right through Mexico.”

Despite the outcomes for the children, they will remember the team from New Mexico who met them with a smile and showed them kindness.


Chris Ramirez

Copyright 2019 KOB-TV LLC, a Hubbard Broadcasting Company. All rights reserved

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