Immigrants and their children have become a significant segment of American society. Immigrants migrate from various countries possessing diverse backgrounds, beliefs, customs, and languages1. Families migrate for multiple reasons but all share in the stress of migration that can have lasting effects on the immigrant family. Once these families arrive, they are challenged with adapting to a new language, customs, roles, and activities1. This can result in conflict between parents and their children, as children readily adapt to the new culture which can differ from their parent’s beliefs and expectations. Children may turn to others for advice, experience divided loyalties, and confusion regarding their cultural identity1.
Another significant factor in migration is the existence of undocumented parents. In immigrant families, approximately 4.5 million of US citizen children live in families where at least one member is undocumented with an authorized status2. Since the 1990s, there has been a growing number of deportations due to stricter laws so the risk of deportation is a real threat that families may face2. This threat challenges families who are dealing with multiple socioeconomic stressors resulting in psychological difficulties1. Immigrants also face the fear of reporting abuse to authorities and the inability to access both medical and mental health services1,2. Children of these family’s risk developing emotional distress, poor academic performance, physical illness, and developmental delays2,3. If a parent is detained, this can have devastating effects on the child, leaving them without adequate childcare and the reversal of family roles as the remaining parent struggles to meet the family’s needs2.
Furthermore, another potential outcome of detainment is a parent’s difficult decision to either remain separated from their child through deportation or to have the child accompany them back to their country of origin2. Detainment itself can lead to negative effects on both the individual and family, resulting in anxiety, depression, trauma, poor school performance, and increased risk of suicide3. If the separation persists, these children can even be at risk for drug use, poor interpersonal relationships, and even delinquent behavior2,3. The immigrant community is also impacted by a family’s risk of deportation through increased fear, unreported crime, violence due to fear of discovery, and mistrust of authorities2.
Although there have been recent efforts to improve the immigration process through advocacy groups as well as President Trump’s recent signing of an executive order putting an end to family separation, the process of detainment still negatively affects children and their families3. Mental health professionals, advocates, and researchers agree that families must be provided support to address mental health problems that can occur throughout the migration process1. This support can be challenging as immigrants may hesitate to receive services due to fear of deportation, cultural beliefs, and barriers to accessing treatment. In addition, if treatment is not culturally sensitive, it may result in lack of trust and improper treatment based on an inaccurate assessment1. Therefore, it is important that mental health professionals be knowledgeable on how to modify treatment to be more culturally sensitive in order to improve outcomes. This includes the need to understand an individual’s perspective, coping skills, prior history, and the emotional impact of migration1. Further steps can also include increasing a clinician’s self-awareness through supervision, use of professional and community resources, and utilizing culturally sensitive practices1. Mental health professionals, educators, and others who work with immigrant families must continue in their efforts to advance research, improve clinical practice, and understand the complexity of the migration process1.
- APA Presidential Taskforce on Immigration (2013). Working with immigrant origin clients: An update for mental health professionals.
- Brabeck, K. M., Lykes, M. B., & Hunter, C. (2014). The psychosocial impact of detention and deportation on U.S. migrant children and families. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 84(5), 496–505. https://doi.org/10.1037/ort0000011
- Ducharme, J. (2018). Detaining families may also cause mental health issues. Retrieved from https://time.com/5317762/psychological-effects-detaining-immigrant-families