Category Archives: #MacroSW

The Dilley Project: UB Students at the US-Mexico Border – Fourth Post

by Teresa Watson

Editor’s note: This is the fourth in a series of posts from a MSW student who is volunteering with the University at Buffalo Law School US-Mexico Border Clinic and assisting women and children seeking asylum, in a detention center in Dilley, Texas. See previous posts at https://socialworksynergy.org/.


Toxic Water, Toxic Environments

 

Finding the energy to compose a new post is always a challenge at the end of the days here, because my brain is exhausted, and unfortunately, I’m not a morning person. We need to be dressed, breakfasted and ready leave the hotel by 7:15 AM, so I’ve never managed to write posts in the mornings. At the end of a day like this, though, it feels impossible to explain all of the experiences we fit into that day, and equally impossible to create distinct entries when I can’t (for important reasons, of course) discuss specific cases. There is a sameness to the cases that can border on monotony, sometimes, since the legal framework doesn’t adapt to each persons individual life experiences; instead, their life experiences have to adapt to the legal framework. But for this entry I will try to explain some of the things that – well, that most upset me, I guess. Complaints aren’t very solution-focused but these complaints are true.


Prohibitions

 

Firstly, we are not allowed to share anything with the clients, not food or water or gifts of any sort – including coloring books or toys for the kids.

Share in red circle with slash through it that means no sharing

We can give them paper or individual pages to draw on but we are not allowed to bring things to color with into the facility, and I have – multiple times – presented kids with half of a black crayon, a yellow highlighter and a blank paper because it was all we had. Sometimes we would make paper airplanes so the kids could zoom them around the room, or my partner would fold a few sheets into a tight football so they could toss it around gently. It is possible to ask the ICE staff for crayons but, honestly, I generally felt I had to “save up” for more important asks, like coaxing them to look for clients who are missing their appointments- several times a day.

We are not allowed to bring in more than a day’s worth of food and drink; no make-up (lip balm was OK), no cans of food, no more clothing than you would wear in a day, no more over-the-counter medicine than you would use in a day, no cell phones or cameras, and no liquids besides things like tea, water, coffee, etc. The dress code is strictly enforced as well, requiring short or long sleeves, high-necked shirts and knee length skirts, no midriffs, and nothing too tight.

The inability to give these kids something, ANYTHING to do besides watch the movie ICE is playing (in English) or handing them a paper and pen and hoping for the best definitely bothered me- but it did not bother me as much as being unable to share the water with them.

Poisoned Water

Here’s the thing about their water: we volunteers don’t drink it. The Pro Bono staff doesn’t drink it. The ICE staff doesn’t drink it. But the clients do. The clients HAVE TO. The Pro Bono Project tells us that the water is tainted with man-made arsenic, a poison that seeps into the water supply as a result of industrial practices, like fracking; there is also a high likelihood of E. coli being in the water as well because of runoff from cattle ranches and agriculture.

 

dilley hotel food water supplies

Water and food that the volunteers bought to consume during their stay. Photo courtesy of author.

 

 

 

 

 

 
We are forbidden from even sharing our safe water, our jugs and bottles of non-toxic water which is arguably the most important of the needs at the base of Maslow’s hierarchy, with the clients.

 

 

pyramid with 5 levels each in different color, describing the hierarch of needs

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Image: Simply Psychology

 

I’ll be honest with you all, some volunteers did refill the clients paper cups from their own bottles sometimes; I personally never offered to get anyone a drink, not even a sobbing woman who probably could have really benefited from the physically-grounding experience of just drinking water, because I couldn’t bring myself to offer her poison. Some of our clients have babies, or are pregnant – and they’re drinking arsenic. All. Day. Long.

Some of the volunteers say this – the toxic water – is a human rights abuse that they just don’t have enough evidence to litigate yet. I believe that’s true, but even the ICE staff there use their own jugs of bottled water to fill up their coffee makers and then, while the coffee is brewing, turn around and use unfiltered, tainted tap water to fill up the water jugs for the women and kids. From their actions I infer that they also know that what’s in the water there can’t even be boiled out, but somehow it’s not in the budget to bring in clean water for the clients.

If we share our water or food, if we touch the clients, if we hug a kid or comfort a mother by holding her hand, if we are seen offering more than the simplest handshake, we can earn ourselves a lifetime ban and potentially get the whole Pro Bono project in trouble.

Violence against women

The other thing that struck me deeply was the volume of domestic violence/interpersonal violence these women had experienced, and the lack of time to offer support and all the potentially re-triggering questioning that were required in the process of preparing the women for their interview. This issue deserves its own post, or perhaps an entire paper once I have time to sit down and process and research my way through the issue.

 

Chart lists reasons of why violence against woman and girls matter

Chart: Strive, The Lancet

 

The truly distressing detail here, beyond the omnipresence of violence enacted against women, is that domestic violence is being removed as grounds that will qualify someone to seek asylum. I knew that the removal endangered the lives of many women; now, I know what their faces look like, what their stories sound like, and what their children’s names are. I know EXACTLY who the U.S. has decided is not worthy of protection.

That’s it for today; hopefully I will have more spirited or inspiring posts to follow.

 

Teresa stands under a soflty glowing wall sconce.

Teresa Watson, at the hotel in Dilley, Texas, January 2019. Photo courtesy of author.

Teresa is in her second year as an Advanced Standing MSW student and will graduate in May 2019. Her next post will be published tomorrow.

 

Voter Engagement: A social work mandate

By Christina Cerruti, MSW student

“Voting is an act of power and form of empowerment,” Tanya Rhodes Smith, MSW, Director of the Nancy A. Humphreys Institute for Political Social Work at the University of Connecticut, told a group of more than 75 social workers during a Voter Engagement Teach-in held on Capitol Hill  in June.

3 people holding sign in front of the Capitol

Photo: NASW

 

Smith was one of four panelists who shared their views on why voting matters at all levels of social work practice.  The teach-in was a pre-conference event during the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) 2018 National Conference   held June 20th – 23rd.

 

 

A scholarship from the University at Buffalo School of Social Work  (UBSSW) allowed me to attend the annual 3½ day event, which featured keynote speakers, panel presentations, plenary and breakout sessions, and many opportunities to network and learn from the more than 2,000 social workers.

 

Cerruti stands under welcome banner to #NASW18

Christina Cerruti at #NASW18. Photo: from author

This year’s theme, “Shaping Tomorrow Together,” highlighted the critical role of unity in addressing many current social and political issues in the U.S. Although a number of different issues and topics within the field of social work were discussed, the importance of voting and voter engagement were recurring themes throughout the conference.

feet in red white blus sneakers form in word VOTE chalked on asphalt

Photo courtesy Theresa Thompson through Creative Commons License CC BY 2.0

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On Social Work and Other Underappreciated Professions that Serve the Common Good

by Elizabeth Bowen, PhD, LCSW

 

logo for 2018 Socia WRok Month shows 3 abstract people with linked arms above the text: Social Workers: leadrs, advocates, champions. Color are dark blue, turquoise and yellow.

Social Work Month 2018 logo – NASW

The murders of social worker Christine Loeber and her colleagues Jennifer Golick and Jennifer Gonzales by a former client at The Pathway Home for veterans in northern California hit me hard. This news was followed by the less widely publicized but equally tragic murder of Anthony Houston, a supervisor of a transitional living program run by the social service organization Thresholds in Chicago. I didn’t know any of these individuals personally; my grief is not that of mourning a personal loss. But I think like for many social workers and social service professionals, this news hit a nerve. I can’t help but think: Could it have been me, or one of my colleagues, my friends, my students, my mentors?

The short answer to that question is yes. This is not to exaggerate concerns about violent behavior from the people with whom social workers work.  My grief in these tragedies is not only for the victims, but also for the individuals accused of committing these crimes—and for the many people who might share diagnostic labels or service needs with the alleged perpetrators and do not engage in violence, but will be unfairly stereotyped as such. Social workers work with a lot of different people in a lot of different settings, and occupational violence is a rarity for most of us. When clients do act out physically or verbally, it does not usually endanger our lives, and as social workers we also recognize that many people who perpetrate violence have experienced their own horrific trauma and abuse.

Social workers, however, are constantly in situations that are at best uncomfortable—and at worst, fatal, as The Pathway Home and Thresholds tragedies indicate. I am a professor now but in my practitioner days I did a lot of home visits with people in supportive housing. I never faced violence directly in my job but I did find myself in difficult situations, like going on a home visit to see a client we had not heard from in several days and finding him unresponsive in his bed. Not every day was like this–there were also plenty of good days, uneventful days, and even great days that left me feeling like I had the best job in the world. I also acknowledge that if some days were hard for me, they were infinitely harder for the clients themselves and their loved ones. I cared deeply about my job but it was ultimately only my job and not my life.

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Indigenous Communities, Human Rights and Environmental (In)Justice

By Meschelle Linjean

 

Social workers are charged with advancing human rights and social, economic, and environmental justice. We advocate for the rights of vulnerable populations and against any policies, practices, and attitudes that jeopardize anyone’s life, liberty, and security of person. Grave social, economic, and environmental injustices take place in the name of corporate development and greed.

 

This blog post looks at the ways extractive industry development (e.g., oil and gas extraction, mining, logging) in Indigenous homelands in the Americas often result in displacement, poisoning and desecration of the land and water, and contributes to high rates of sexual assault, sex trafficking, and murder.  The beneficiaries are wealthy outsiders, corporations and shareholders. Deep ecology, ecofeminism, empowerment theory, and trauma-informed perspectives are all insightful lenses through which these outrages may be viewed, but this post’s perspective will use the frameworks of human rights, oppression and empowerment.

 

Historical trauma, gender-based violence

Historical trauma, devastating assimilation policies, and continuing oppression have rendered Indigenous communities in the U.S. extremely vulnerable to human rights violations, and disproportionately high rates of poverty and violence. Four out of five Indigenous persons have suffered a violent crime in their lifetime; four out of five perpetrators of this violence are non-Indigenous (Nagle and Steinem, 2016).  American Indian and Alaska Native women suffer sexual violence at the highest rate of any racial group, per capita, in the U.S. (Brewer, 2017).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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