What happens when an undocumented parent gets separated from their US born child at the border? For Vilma Carrillo the future is unclear. Carrillo, an unauthorized immigrant from Guatemala, has been separated from her US born 11 year old daughter Yeisvi since May. Although Yeisvi was born in Georgia in 2006, her family decided to return to Guatemala in 2007 to take care of Vilma’s sick mother. After facing domestic violence at home, Carrillo decided to return to the United States again by crossing the border. At the border, Carrillo was denied asylum and her daughter has been taken into foster care indefinitely. Since her daughter is a US citizen Carrillo may be denied to ever have custody of her again because the authorities are concerned about safety issues with returning to Guatemala. Yeisvi’s foster mother says that the 11 year old cries often asking if she will be able to return to her mother.
Family separation is traumatic for children and parents alike. For children, a stable relationship with their caregiver is very important for their development. Sudden separation from their caregiver, like in the case of the Carrillo’s, can lead to disruptions in sleep and eating. When uncertainty corresponds with loss, such as how Yeisvi does not know when she will see her mother again, children may experience depression, anxiety, and other psychological symptoms (1). Despite being a US citizen, it is likely that Yeisvi will face many barriers if she is to receive mental health services. For example, it will be more difficult to diagnose Yeisvi with psychological disorders such as depression and anxiety because diagnostic tests do not take into account cultural differences in expression of the symptoms. Not only do cultural differences in expression make it harder to diagnose psychological disorders, but they also make it more difficult for clinicians to work with their clients due to a lack of understanding of other cultural norms (2).
Yeisvi is just one of many cases that demonstrates the urgency of the United States government to make policy changes in regards to family separations. Not only should policies be made to try and get rid of family separations, but stronger mental health services should be put into place for those who have and will experience this trauma. For those that argue that Vilma Carrillo should be deported back to Guatemala, it is important to consider how this could affect her daughter, a US citizen and the US as a whole.
- Brabeck, K.M., Lykes, M.B., & Hunter, C. (2014). The psychosocial impact of detention and deportation of U.S. migrant children and families. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 84, 496-505.
- APA (2013). Working with immigrant-origin clients: An update for mental health professionals. Based on Crossroads: The Psychology of Immigration in the New Century.