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School of Social Work holds ethics panel about immigration in the U.S.

ethics panel at school of social work

Viridiana Martinez, founder and director of Alerta Migratoria, a community for North Carolina refugees and immigrants, advises social work students and faculty. Martinez was one of three panelists on the ethics, access, equity and advocacy of serving non-citizens. 

A crowd of UNC School of Social Work students, faculty, field instructors and other mental health professionals stood in the school’s lobby around noon on Monday, chatting over plates of barbecue and pasta salad. They slowly filtered into the school’s auditorium, settling into their seats. Faculty members set up a camera for an online live stream.

The School of Social Work hosted its final Clinical Lecture Series of the school year on Monday. The lecture focused on ethics, access, equity and advocacy for non-citizens. 

“This is a panel on ethics and advocacy, this is the second one we’ve done this year. The one at the beginning of the year had to do more with access to care, and this one today is more about how do we treat our non-citizens, in particular immigrants and refugees, and the ethics around that,” said Debbie Barrett, a clinical associate professor in the School of Social Work and the Department of Psychology. 

The panelists, Ana S. Nuñez, Viridiana Martinez and Nelitza D. Gonzalez, each had 30 minutes to describe the most pressing issues in their specific areas and explain how they thought social workers should address these problems. Then, there was time for audience Q&A after the panelists spoke. 

Nuñez is a practicing attorney at Fay & Grafton in Raleigh specializing in immigration and criminal defense law. Nuñez said she works in affirmative immigration, meaning most of her clients are not being actively pursued for deportation. She said a big issue in her work is the shifting, uncertain nature of immigration law. 

“Big picture, I just see immigration law getting harder and harder. There are a lot more barriers for clients than there used to be, and the rules keep changing on a daily basis,” Nuñez said. “So, what I tell somebody on a Monday may not be true on Friday.”

Gonzalez is the lead therapist at Crossnore School and Children’s Home, a nonprofit residential foster care home for all North Carolina children in crisis. The home places special emphasis on keeping sibling groups together. 

Martinez is the founder and director of Alerta Migratoria, a community for refugees and immigrants in North Carolina. She said one of the most pressing issues in this area of social work is the lack of clear legislation for undocumented immigrants to pursue legal status. 

“Some of the things that you all as clinicians can do is if you’re going to have either students or clients that come to you and you realize that they’re really stressed out, and you hear that their family member got picked up and they’re really, really affected, you can help locate their family member,” Martinez said.

She also said some of the ways social workers can navigate government websites and records to locate detainees. 

Lecture organizers said they hoped attendees would learn how to better serve and advocate for their clients and students.

“The goals are two-part. One is for people to be more informed about what’s happening,” Barrett said. “The other is for people who are wanting to be able to do something to support people in the community in some way, and don’t know what to do, that they’ll have some take-away steps.”


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