A local psychology professor spent nearly a week with immigrant families that just got out of a detention center in Texas.

She speaks exclusively to KRON4 about what she says was a heartbreaking experience.

Professor Belinda Hernandez-Arriaga tells KRON4 she knows this kind of sudden separation of children from their parents is traumatic. She says it has long-lasting effects, but she says seeing the impact the trauma had on the kids touched her and her team beyond what their expertise could prepare them for.

Arriaga and her students, along with a group of moms and activists, went to McAllen, Texas to see for themselves the impact detention had on immigrant families.

“Seeing the children, not have a bath, giving them their first pair of shoes, seeing them hungry, it just moved us with so much emotion, and feelings of helplessness, and also, just this kind of anger around how can this be happening in our country,” Arriaga said.

Arriaga of the University of San Francisco says the hurt was so visible on the children’s faces.

“We saw one little girl that had been separated from her dad for about 14 days, and you could see in her eyes just this sense of confusion and distance,” Arriaga said. “And that liveliness of a child was missing.”

As an expert, Arriaga says she knows the anxiety this experience causes for children well into their adult years.

“This kind of sudden separation, this sudden trust of them being put into really difficult condition perpetuates this fear for the rest of their lives that suddenly something can happen,” Arriaga said. “That suddenly at any given time in their lives that suddenly a parent can be taken away from them, a loved one. And always this kind of impending doom that can happen to them. That they can’t control anything that’s happening in their lives.”

Amidst all the trauma, Arriaga says the resilience of the parents was eye-opening.

“We saw a range of emotions but mostly what we witnessed was parents trying to take the next step for survival in a storm of confusion and uncertainty and fear,” Arriaga said. “…They’re coming here because they have to. It’s part of what they’re doing to make it to the next day to live.”

If you’d like to help these families, you can do that by calling Buck’s Pizza in McAllen, Texas and buy the kids and their parents a pizza for just $6.

The phone number is 956-581-8611.