5 Ways to Help Detained Immigrant Children

Research shows gratitude increases compassion. Use yours to stop mistreatment.

Posted Jun 23, 2019

Duy Pham/Unsplash
Research has shown that people who feel grateful are generous to others.
Source: Duy Pham/Unsplash

       “Thankfulness may consist merely of words. Gratitude is shown in acts.” —Henri Frederic Amiel

I recently watched a talk from Anna Rosling Rönnlund, inventor of the Dollar Street project (watch the video below). I was left painfully aware of my privilege and undeserved blessings. Rönnlund emphasized three things:

  • Level of income gives us a great deal of information about what life looks like for someone in the world, regardless of region, culture, religion, etc. Rönnlund asked researchers to take photographs of common household items, such as a bed, the stove, the doors, the silverware, and several other things. All the photographs are organized by income. You can see for yourself here by sliding the marker along the scale from poorest to richest. As you play around, what do you notice? I’ve set my slider to view homes around the world with a monthly income of $41. There are pictures from Zimbabwe, Burkina Faso, Malawi, and many others. Yet, the houses all look very similar—small, frail huts. Be sure to give toilets and toothbrushes a try.
  • The United States is incredibly wealthy. Rönnlund asked her Swedish students (paraphrasing), “If we lined up all the houses in the world by income, where would you be?” Most students said somewhere in the middle. Sweden, however, much like the United States, is one of the richest countries in the world.
  • The poorest Americans are still typically much better off than the poorest worldwide. The images from the low and high-income earners in the U.S. are similar to each other, unlike other countries such as China, where the poor live markedly different lives than the rich. The poor in the U.S. have more than one spoon, a toothbrush rather than a finger, a toilet, a gas/electric stove, etc.

Rönnlund’s speech left me in awe at the blessings I take for granted every day and made me want to do more to help those less fortunate.

This feel-good do-good phenomenon is also true in reverse. After you help others, your happiness increases even more. Research has shown that people who feel grateful are generous to others, even when the behavior is unlikely to be reciprocated.

Larm Rmah/Unsplash
One of psychology’s most consistent findings is that when you feel good, you do good. 
Source: Larm Rmah/Unsplash

I recently wrote a piece about the harmful effects of detention centers on immigrant children. Unfortunately, inhumane conditions continue to persist. Recently, Sarah Fabian, the senior attorney in the Department of Justice’s Office of Immigration Litigation, argued that providing children with “safe and sanitary” conditions did not include soap or toothbrushes. She considered sleeping on concrete floors under bright lights a sufficient environment. Please refer to my previous post on the myriad of potential harm that can be had in such a setting.

As gratitude for my own life has increased, I have also felt helpless. What can be done to help these children? As Jana Stanfield said, “I cannot do all the good that the world needs. But the world needs all the good that I can do.”

Here are five concrete steps that can be taken to bring your gratitude into action:

1. Be informed and educate others. It can be difficult to fix problems we don’t see. While it can be overwhelming to focus on uncomfortable topics, ignoring them is worse. Don’t look away. Try to find information that comes from firsthand accounts and reputable sources. Speak up about injustices and share information from trustworthy sources on social media.

2. Give time or money to trusted organizations. There are many organizations, local and national, with the framework to make large impacts. But they can’t create positive change without funding and volunteers. Search online to find out how you can be involved. One example is to support organizations looking to reunite immigrant children with their parents. A list for some of those organizations can be found here. You can also help raise funds to post bail for immigrants or become a volunteer translator.

3. Donate frequent flier miles. Frequent flier miles can be donated to help coordinate travel for immigrants, refugees, asylum-seekers, and immigration attorneys working pro bono.

4. Participate in or organize a protest. Residents of the U.S. have a sacred right to protest. This can be a great tool when confronted with unjust laws or inhumane interpretations of laws. One organization working to solve problems regarding detention camps specifically is Lights for Liberty. You can find protest locations or organize one in your area.

5. Contact your senators and house representatives. Elected officials work for their constituents. They need to hear your voice and know they are being held accountable for their actions. Ask them to hold hearings, exercise oversight, and use their power to draw attention to the inhumane treatment of immigrant children. You can find your house representatives here and senators here. One easy tool is Resistbot, which can send messages directly to your elected officials.

Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.” I find it uncomfortable to bask in the comfort of my blessings, expanding my gratitude, while idly watching others unjustly suffer.

What has gratitude compelled you to do?

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