A study by two professors found that Latino-American families’ mental health is suffering because of the Trump administration’s aggressive immigration policies.
The study, which was published this month in the Journal of Adolescent Health, collected data from 54 Latino parents about mental health from six focus groups and more than 200 surveys. Researchers found that although 30 percent of the parents sampled were undocumented, more than two-thirds of parents were worried about family separation, suggesting that immigration policies are creating stress for both legal and undocumented immigrants.
Researchers said the study shows that President Donald Trump’s rhetoric and policies to crackdown on undocumented immigrants are taking a mental toll on Latino immigrant communities worried about deportation and family separation.
The groups surveyed included undocumented parents from across the country as well as parents who have permanent residence, temporary protected or full legal status. All of the parents questioned were raising teenagers with a different type of residency status from their own.
“We had a rare window of opportunity to collect data and analyze it at a moment in time when lots of policy changes are taking place.”
Kathleen Roche, an associate professor of prevention and community health, said half of the parents surveyed reported that they avoided getting medical care or legal assistance. She said researchers also found a 300 percent increase in the odds that a Latino patient experiencing high psychological stress indicated by clinical symptoms of anxiety and depression.
“We’ve seen a lot in the media over the past 12 to 18 months about how Latinos are being deported and experiencing fear, but there’s really been no empirical evidence to date tying current immigration changes to functioning and well-being of parents and families,” Roche said.
She said mental health issues, like anxiety and depression, in Latino parents have a strong chance of being carried over to their children, perpetuating a cycle of psychological distress.
“Regardless of their background, teens are at risk when their parents suffer from mental health problems,” Roche said. “There are concerns that the children of these Latino families are at risk of not doing well in school, are engaging in substance abuse, and/or experiencing their own depression and anxiety.”
She said she hopes the study reaches policymakers to give them an understanding of the harm that can be done through aggressive changes in immigration.
“While this was a small study representative of one immigrant community, it is my hope to expand this to multiple fights so that we can have findings that generalize a variety of immigration communities throughout the U.S.,” she said.
Roche said a small amount of funding for the study came from the National Institutes of Health and the William T. Grant Foundation, a nonprofit organization that provides research grants in the social sciences. She said the group started collecting data for the report in November.
Elizabeth Vaquera, an associate professor of philosophy and director of the Cisneros Hispanic Leadership Institute who helped lead the study, said conducting research on a time sensitive topic was crucial to spreading awareness of how Latino Americans are being affected by Trump’s hawkish immigration policies.
Since taking office, Trump has expanded criteria making undocumented immigrants eligible for deportation and vowed to end a program that offers hundreds of thousands of young undocumented immigrants temporary legal status, calling on Congress to pass a replacement.
“It is my passion to be involved and to reach out to a community that’s usually not heard or not reached.”
“Social scientists seldom have the opportunity to study issues right when they happen,” Vaquera said. “We had a rare window of opportunity to collect data and analyze it at a moment in time when lots of policy changes are taking place.”
Vaquera said the team hopes to conduct further studies to survey Latino-American teenagers to better understand how immigration policies that parents face are directly impacting their children’s wellbeing.
Maria Ivonne Rivera, an alumna who was in charge of determining the study’s research design, said the research was reflective of her passion for serving the Latino community, and that she wants to spread awareness of the issues highlighted in the study to make people more aware of the struggles parents are facing.
“It is my passion to be involved and to reach out to a community that’s usually not heard or not reached,” she said. “History will tell the truth and it is important to document what is going on right now and how it is affecting Latino-Americans.”