By Mary McPhail Gray
The trauma emanating from national news is felt by children in Taos—is heard in our schools, in our families, in our counseling offices. The images on TV, the comments by parents and older siblings are scary and often not understood by children.
”Why do those TV pictures have people with no faces? “
“Why are there pictures of adults and/or children huddled on the floor in a room?”
“Why are there pictures of adults and children wading across a river or lying dead along the shore?”
Even if parents carefully shield their children from the news images we all see—it is impossible for them not to overhear something of the trauma occurring in our country right now. As a border state, we have more action and reporting than other places might. Friends or classmates at school may be heard to express their fears—that their parents might be arrested—that they might come home to find them gone. Even if their family is not immediately impacted by current threats children can undoubtedly learn that there is fear and violence in the land.
Counselors and teachers see children who are subdued and if they have some trust in the adults present, may express that they are concerned their parents may be taken away. There are no easy answers to their fears, but we all have a role in trying to protect and teach them that we can make a difference. Both Taos county and Taos town voted to become “Immigrant Friendly” places some months ago—to not condone random searches and questioning of residents without legal cause and documents to support that. Employers have been advised how to protect their undocumented workers.
Two local organizations—Taos Immigration Allies and Sin Fronteras Nuevo Mexico—are working actively to provide information and services to parents who are undocumented and concerned about the safety of their children should the parents be arrested in an ICE raid. One action being taken by such fearful parents is to identify someone who can be a legal guardian of their children by signing a Power of Attorney document. In an emergency, the guardian can take physical custody of the children and assume legal responsibility for their welfare and needs. Properties and businesses of the parents are also protected. The parents’ rights are not terminated but rather are “suspended” until such a time when a safety plan can be made for reunification.
Workshops to educate parents on these processes have been organized by Sin Fronteras Nuevo New Mexico (SFNM) with volunteer notaries and educational packets available. The need is critical—to provide some sense of comfort and planning for undocumented parents. It is estimated that almost six million children in the United States live with an undocumented family member. While the actual numbers in Taos are not known—schools and human service agencies know that there is fear in the community. Sin Fronteras Nuevo Mexico co-founder Jose Gonzales keeps open communication with families and other volunteers who report on ICE presence in Taos and provides accurate information to concerned residents.
Many Taos residents who are undocumented are vital workers in our economy and enhance our lives. Professionals in behavioral health services know the many of these families need support and their fears often cause them to become isolated. We all can make a difference by making sure that we offer support in any way we can and emphasize the caring nature of Taos. When SFNM appeals to the community for donations of material goods to help families at the border as they did in the month of July, we can take note and respond. We can respond to the appeal for donations of money from TIA to help support these efforts.
And we can explain to our children that we are sharing our resources with others—caring for families in need. Take children and youth along when you deliver your contributions and give them a sense of outreach and responsibility. We need them to know that we are responding to a crisis that is not normal—this is not the way Americans usually treat each other.
Just after the 2016 election a six-year-old at Enos Garcia Elementary declared “Trump does not like me. He wants me to leave.”
These are tough times for us all as the nation grapples with deep divisions and deep anger in our political life. Many of us grew up in an era when compromise and civility marked our political process. We had spirited arguments but much of it rested on core values of participation in the village commons—sharing—caring—being active in making life better for all. We need to share that vision with our children.
Taos Behavioral Health has the largest credentialed and licensed behavioral health staff in northern New Mexico. We can be reached at 105 Bertha in Taos, at 575-578-4297 or www.taosbehavioralhealth.org.
Mary McPhail Gray is the board chair of TBH and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 575-779-3126.