Contrary to popular belief the number of immigrants crossing the border from Central America is not on the rise, instead it has relatively gone down compared to previous years1. However, what has changed is that immigrants are more likely to be part of families when crossing the border rather than single adults. This bit of information is important because when immigrant families enter the country there’s greater obligation on the U.S to protect them1. However, the reality is that in recent times under Trump’s administration this has not been the case. Immigrants crossing the US Mexico border in the last two years have faced harsh treatment as a result of the stringent immigration policies. Unfortunately, as research shows harsh immigration policies have long lasting impacts on immigrants2. More specifically, immigrants’ psychological well-being and their development is at risk due to the challenges they face under inhumane immigration policies.
Before we delve into the consequences of some of Trump’s immigration policies it’s important to highlight how immigrants have been treated at the border so far. In May of this year 650 children were separated from their parents under the zero tolerance policy3. Adults were being processed and detained in different locations as their children. Additionally, reunification was not guaranteed in a timely manner. Images of distraught families and kids started circulating social media, creating a public outcry. However, the damage had already been done, sadly some families are still separated till this day. Separating children from their parents has negative impacts on their well-being.
Additionally, just a couple of days ago images in the media surfaced of US border agents using tear gas against migrants trying to cross the border1. The migrants had been protesting the slow pace at which US was processing their asylum claims. Tear gas was used on even young children. Tear gas has harmful physical effects such temporary blindness and difficulty breathing4. Not only does the usage of tear gas have physical health effects but also psychological implications.
Family separation and human rights abuses while crossing the border has major negative consequences on the psychological well-being of both parents and children. Parents held in detention centers experience a multitude of adverse conditions such as poor health care, racism and denied access to basic human needs such as food and water. Lastly, research shows that families that experience detention and deportation are at a high risk of children exhibiting delinquent behaviors and having mental health problems2.
Thus, it is important that clinicians and policy makers be cognizant of the struggles immigrants face when crossing the border. Research highlights that during the immigration process a whole host of mental health issues can arise such as PTSD, anxiety and depression4. For example, immigrants that were attacked with tear gas might suffer from PTSD. To successfully cater to their mental health needs immigrants’ unique position has to be acknowledged and validated.
2)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.
4)APA (2013). Working with immigrant-origin clients: An update for mental health professionals. Based on Crossroads: The Psychology of Immigration in the New Century.