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Social work and the crisis on the border

UHD professor Dr. Dawn McCarty explains what drives migrants to the U.S. border and what resources await when they arrive.

HOUSTON — Over the past week, we've all seen images from Del Rio, Texas showing Haitian migrants camping under a bridge near the border. But over the past few years, images of migrant caravans also filled up our social media feed.

Digital anchor Brandi Smith talked to Dr. Dawn McCarty, University of Houston-Downtown Professor of Social Work and Director of UHD's Social Work Program, about how social workers are responding to the crisis at the border.

Brandi: What drives people to want to come to the United States?

Dr. McCarty: People are pushed out of their countries for different reasons. It might be a natural disaster, war, violence or political persecution. But there's a common thread and that is their willingness to sacrifice their own safety and well-being for their children and their families. That is always a thread that ties them together, regardless of the country they come from or the the tragic conditions that they're fleeing.

RELATED: Officials: All migrants are gone from Texas border camp

Brandi: These are often dangerous, difficult treks to make. What kind of conditions are people traveling through to get to our border?

Dr. McCarty: That's what makes this particularly difficult. Even not talking about the larger issues of that response (the national response, what that should be, and how that should look), it's difficult because when people arrive, they are in terrible condition: physically, emotionally, spiritually and psychologically. 

They've experienced trauma in their own country. The journey is filled with trauma and anxiety. Making it to the border is in itself a traumatic process and a traumatic event. So people who work with new migrant persons are always very sensitive to the condition of people as they come in. 

Social workers in particular, one of our key values is the dignity and worth of all persons. So even professionally when we see conditions where people are suffering, then it compels us to want to act and to address people's dignity and worth in a way that helps them in the moment. 

There are bigger issues at play here. But I know that many of my colleagues and I have been troubled by these images and how to, in our sort of professional desire, to promote the dignity and worth of our people. This is not dignified, right? This is not. These people are worthy of more.

RELATED: Where do the thousands of migrants who traveled to Del Rio go to next?

Brandi: Having been through that, what kind of resources do those folks need? And what is available when they get to the US?

Dr. McCarty: That depends on where they go, to tell you the truth. States are very different. Regions are very different. 

It's not a lot. I think most folks who work in this field will say not near enough. We can't reach all the persons that need support. You need some way to address trauma, need a trauma-informed response. Hopefully, you find that and if not, that just adds another layer of trauma and tragedy to people to experience.

Brandi: What kind of challenges are social workers facing? Because I imagine what you just said is is a bit a big part of that.

Dr. McCarty: It's very difficult. It's difficult and then when people are here, if they do make it into the United States and they are allowed entry and some time to address their claims, that time is lengthy and they need support and they need resources.

For social work, it's this sort of imbalance of people who need support and there are not a lot of resources to support them.

Brandi: What do you want people to think about when they see some of the viral images that that come out of these? There were the caravans through Central America last year and now the Del Rio bridge. What do you want people to know when they see that?

Dr. McCarty: That as an individual, I know that those videos can seem overwhelming. But as a community working together, it's much more manageable. I would hope that it would encourage and motivate people to get involved. There are so many organizations doing incredible work, so many religious organizations. Spiritually, turn to your religious communities, your spiritual communities, legal and professional groups that are engaged. Keep folks working at the border or working on larger national issues. It's overwhelming on our own. Together in a group, in a community, we have a place to talk about these issues, to work on these issues, to maybe provide direct services or to look at the larger policy issues, the larger global issues. There's so much impressive work going on. So get involved, join in, be a part of not so much just a solution, but be a part for your own self.

Dr. McCarty literally wrote the textbook on social work and immigrant populations. You can learn more about it here.