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Trauma of kids in cages, family separation impacting Eagle County families

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October 28, 2020, 8:35 am
Gerry Lopez

Gerry Lopez first came to the United States from Mexico when he was four. Years earlier his father had crossed the border into California to work the crops and was later granted amnesty during the Reagan administration, eventually moving his family to the mountains of Colorado.

Lopez, the youth engagement coordinator for Eagle Valley Behavioral Health, says he feels lucky to have had a relatively easy path to citizenship because it’s become such a struggle for so many people in more recent years.

Twenty-one now and a graduate of Eagle Valley High School, Lopez holds an associate degree and was working on his bachelor’s at Colorado Mountain College when RealVail.com interviewed him last summer for the most recent issue of Vail Health Magazine.

Lopez had made a plan to commit suicide when he was in high school, feeling lonely and bullied after transferring from Battle Mountain High School. A counselor at Eagle Valley convinced him he had a lot to live for and now Lopez works with counselors and kids throughout the district.

Lopez spoke at the time about the damage he says is being done to immigrant families separated at the border, with children being kept in cages away from their parents.

“They have been through some trauma that affects them in the long run,” Lopez said. “You’re talking about kids that have seen things, that have been through some things. When [President Donald] Trump was keeping the kids in cages, there’s families here [in Eagle County] that have family members in those cages.”

News broke last week that there are still 545 migrant children whose families have not been located – the legacy of the Trump administration’s family separation policy. Lopez last summer talked about the impacts of the policy on local children in the Eagle County schools.

“I talked to them, and a lot of those kids before they knew about that they were super-happy, super-outspoken, and then, boom, their family gets put in cages and they come to school and it’s like they’re completely different,” Lopez said. “They’re shut down. They don’t want to talk. They don’t want to open up.”

Lopez thinks those policies are have long-term psychological impacts on immigrant families here in Eagle County and across the country.

“PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder] is one of the things that I feel like a lot of our kids have because there’s a whole lot of levels of trauma that we are paying attention to now compared to a couple of years ago,” Lopez said. “It can really affect long-term, and then there’s bullying.”

COVID-19 has dominated the election cycle that culminates on Tuesday, Nov. 3, and the disease has disproportionately impacted immigrants working in essential frontline jobs and living in closer quarters such as the trailer parks of affluent Eagle County.

But immigration reform, the fate of DACA recipients and the overall health of the valley’s 30-percent Latino population are also on the ballot as Trump and his hardline immigration advisor, Stephen Miller, seek another four years in office.

Late last week, immigration also jumped to the forefront of the only competitive U.S. House race in the state – the 3rd Congressional District battle between former Eagle County state Rep. Diane Mitsch Bush and Rifle restaurant owner and right-wing Republican media star Lauren Boebert.

The Aspen Daily News last week endorsed Democrat Mitsch Bush for the seat that includes the western two-thirds of Eagle County and a total of 29 out of Colorado’s 64 counties – including most of the Western Slope. Here’s an excerpt from that endorsement:

“When asked if [Boebert] condemned the administration’s policies that allowed for children to be separated from their parents — in the same week that the American Civil Liberties Union reported that the federal government has so far failed to locate the parents of 545 children victims of the ‘no tolerance’ policy — Boebert replied that ‘when parents break the laws, sometimes things happen.’

“She went on to liken a nearly 10% alleged failure to effectively track the parents of children separated at the border, even amid asylum requests, to her anecdotal experience following an arrest for an unpaid parking ticket. ‘When I didn’t pay my $100 traffic ticket, I was separated from my kids for about an hour until I got it taken care of,’ [Boebert] said.”

Boebert has a track record of legal issues dating back several years. Mitsch Bush on Tuesday sent out an email statement on Boebert’s comments regarding child separation. “These are children that have spent months in detainment without their parents. Many fled violence in their home countries, don’t speak English, and all of them are virtually orphaned because of the Trump administration’s failures,” Mitsch Bush wrote. “And Boebert either thinks this is all a joke or just doesn’t care.

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David O. Williams

Managing Editor at RealVail
David O. Williams is an award-winning freelance reporter based in the Vail Valley of Colorado, writing on health care, immigration, politics, the environment, energy, public lands, outdoor recreation and sports. His work has appeared in 5280 Magazine, American Way Magazine (American Airlines), the Anchorage Daily News (Alaska), Aspen Daily News, Aspen Journalism, the Aspen Times, Beaver Creek Magazine, the Chicago Tribune, the Colorado Independent (formerly Colorado Confidential), Colorado Politics (formerly the Colorado Statesman), Colorado Public News, the Colorado Springs Gazette, the Colorado Springs Independent, the Colorado Statesman (now Colorado Politics), the Colorado Times Recorder, the Daily Trail (Vail), the Denver Daily News, the Denver Gazette, the Denver Post, the Durango Herald, the Eagle Valley Enterprise, the Eastside Journal (Bellevue, Washington), ESPN.com, the Glenwood Springs Post-Independent, the Greeley Tribune, the Huffington Post, the King County Journal (Seattle, Washington), KUNC.org (northern Colorado), LA Weekly, the London Daily Mirror, the Montgomery Journal (Maryland), The New York Times, the Parent’s Handbook, Peaks Magazine (now Epic Life), People Magazine, Powder Magazine, the Pueblo Chieftain, PT Magazine, Rocky Mountain Golf Magazine, the Rocky Mountain News, Atlantic Media's RouteFifty.com (formerly Government Executive State and Local), SKI Magazine, Ski Area Management, SKIING Magazine, the Summit Daily News, United Hemispheres (United Airlines), Vail/Beaver Creek Magazine, Vail en Español, Vail Valley Magazine, the Vail Daily, the Vail Trail and Westword (Denver). Williams is also the founder, publisher and editor of RealVail.com and RockyMountainPost.com.

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