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Make a Move: Professor’s Board Game Helps Young Immigrants Plot Their Futures

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    By Barbara Gutierrez
    UM News

    Lien Trans teaches counselors how to play the board game she created or the young, unaccompanied, and undocumented immigrants who are streaming into the United States.

    Lien Tran shows counselors how to play the board game she created for the young, unaccompanied, and undocumented immigrants who are streaming into the United States. (Photo by Han Chang)

    MIAMI, Fla. (August 20, 2014)—Life in the United States for the thousands of young, unaccompanied, and undocumented immigrants who continue to arrive from Central America can be daunting. Many end up in detention centers where they must make legal decisions that will determine their future.

    University of Miami School of Communication assistant professor Lien Tran has created a board game called Toma el Paso (Make a Move) to make their lives easier. It introduces them to the system for seeking approval to leave the shelter.  

    Last Monday, Tran visited “His House Children’s Home” in Miami Gardens, where 166 children between 11 and 17 years of age reside, to train 20 resident counselors who work with the minors how to use the game.

    “This is a good way to engage kids with complicated information,” said Tran. “You can play with the children at any time.”

    Available in English and Spanish, the game was first introduced at the shelter in April as part of the Immigrant Children Affirmative Network (ICAN), a youth program developed by faculty and students in the School of Education and Human Development that has been used for seven years to promote resilience and hope among unaccompanied immigrant minors in South Florida. To date, dozens of the youngsters have played the game.

    “Professor Tran has created a remarkable tool to help educate these youth and bring joy to their lives at the same time,” said Etiony Aldarondo, associate dean for research at the school and director of  ICAN. “Most of us would be overwhelmed if we had to deal with the complex legal and social challenges faced by unaccompanied immigrant minors in this country. This game turns the stress of figuring out the uncertain pathways that lie ahead for these kids into a fun opportunity to learn.”

    The goal of the game, which up to six people can play at a time, is for participants to get out of the shelter, symbolized by reaching a yellow star. Tran developed the game with the help of an immigration lawyer in New York. The board resembles a juvenile detention facility with squares that players reach by rolling the dice. The squares represent a case manager, a lawyer, a phone, or the opportunity to get a specific card that provides information.

    Meeting a case manager is one of the first goals.

    “Let me meet with the case manager—that should be the name of the game,” said Israel, one of the counselors. “That’s what the kids want the most.”

    Case managers are crucial because they help determine which of the three release options are open to the minors: reunification with a U.S. sponsor, federal foster care, or voluntary departure. Once players choose the option they intend to pursue, they are given color-coded cards with the requisites needed to achieve it.

    For example, in order to be reunited with family members in the U.S., minors need proof of their sponsor’s relationship to them, fingerprints of the sponsor, and proof that the sponsor can financially support them.

    The object is to collect enough cards to fill a submission packet and ultimately be released from the detention center.

    The complexity of the legal process came as a surprise to Eddy, a 22-year-old FIU student who works with the detainees.

    “This game helps us be more empathetic to their plight,” Eddy said. “We realize what they have to go through.”

    Gina, a Haitian-American counselor who has worked with detainees for many years, said the game simplifies the legal process and can help minors cope with their situation.

    “Many of the children are under a lot of stress,” she said. “Many come into this country escorted by strangers, and some are abused by these strangers. It is important for us to be vigilant to their needs and make sure they know that they are in a safe environment.”

    More information on the game and how to order a copy is available at

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