In the last few years, the issue of immigration has made news headlines over and over, as the Trump administration seeks to make radical changes to U.S. immigration policy, an issue that formed an important feature of his campaign platform. Immigration has proven to be a divisive issue in the United States, as recently evidenced by the partial government shutdown over the issue of funding for Trump’s proposed border wall.

While every citizen is entitled to her own opinion on U.S. immigration policy and proposed strategies to improve it, social workers in the U.S. have an ethical mandate to support policies and initiatives that enhance the wellbeing of immigrant children and families, and to act as advocates for immigrant and refugee clients. The National Association of Social Workers and its numerous regional chapters, as well as the Council of Social Work Education have taken clear stances on immigration issues during the Trump administration that provide guidance for social workers who may be uninformed about these issues and the potential value conflicts they pose for the social work profession. The following is an overview of the social work profession’s stance on immigration.

As Andrea Haidar at the University of Chicago notes, “Immigrant and refugee rights have long been an issue of critical importance for social workers in the United States.” From the profession’s earliest days in the settlement house movement in Chicago, social workers focused on providing social services to recently-arrived immigrants, a vulnerable population. Accordingly, the National Association of Social Workers has long issued policy statements related to immigrants and refugees that provide guidance to social workers across the nation, and outline the profession’s political stance with regard to immigration policy. As early as 2007, NASW recognized in this policy statement that: “Social workers see the impact of immigrant and refugee policies in their everyday practice. Their very capacity to help and do “good social work” is constrained by immigration policies, especially policies that limit family visitation and family reunification. Deportation policies intervene in social work practice when family offenses become grounds for deportation and thereby impede willingness to report.” The statement ties immigrant rights to human rights, and calls for government accountability to immigrant families, policies that promote social justice and child welfare, and protections for undocumented persons and those living in mixed-status families.

In recent years, the NASW has issued an increasing amount of policy statements, tip sheets, human rights updates, and issue briefs related to the actions and proposals of the Trump administration related to immigration policy. These documents are numerous, and help to clarify the NASW’s stance on immigration, for social workers and others who need professional guidance on these issues. These documents include:

  • A social justice brief providing an overview of and recommendations for social work practice with unaccompanied migrant children, who are considered a vulnerable group deserving of special attention from the social work profession

  • A Tip Sheet on how social workers can help immigrant children who are separated from their families due to the Trump administration’s “zero-tolerance” immigration policy

  • A social justice brief on the intersections of Sanctuary Cities, national immigration policies, and child welfare policies and practices in the Trump era, and their implications for social workers

  • A policy statement on immigration executive order that banned Muslim individuals from entry into the U.S. (known as the Muslim Ban), decrying it as inhumane

  • A policy statement on the Trump administration’s “zero-tolerance” immigration policy that separated immigrant children from their parents at the border, calling it unconscionable and malicious

  • A policy statement on the Syrian refugee crisis, advocating for safe haven and support for refugees fleeing the crisis

  • A policy statement on the Trump administration’s plan to rescind Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), stating such plans are cruel, unwise, and unjustified

Lending further support and guidance for social workers in the U.S. and beyond, the International Federation of Social Workers recently issued a statement on the Central American Caravan that arrived at the southern U.S. border, describing the Central American families as “forced migrants” and calling for alternatives to the militarization of the border, stating: “The Human Rights Commission of the International Federation of Social Workers denounces current United States immigration policies and practices on Central American migration and encourages the country to abide by its own laws and international treaties on refugees. In particular, the commission encourages the Administration to process all asylum-seekers in a fair and judicious manner that recognizes the perilous state that impels them to seek sanctuary in the United States. The caravan should be met be social workers, not soldiers.” Social work scholars and practitioners have also joined in the discourse through scholarly publications and theses, arguing that the criminalization of immigration is in direct conflict with social work values (Furman, Ackerman, Loya, Jones, & Egi, 2012) and highlighting social workers’ ethical responsibility to advocate for immigrants (Moore, 2018).

Thus, the stance of the social work profession on immigration in the U.S. is clear: social workers should advocate for and support policies, programs, and initiatives that respect the dignity and worth of all people, regardless of national origin and/or immigration status, in alignment with social work values informed by human rights perspectives and the pursuit of social justice.

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