Author: Lia Sorgen

The United States’ Hostile Context of Reception and Current Policy Present Negative Developmental Outcomes for Immigrant Youth

As the number of immigrants—documented and undocumented—is substantial and growing, the United States has begun to revise its immigration policies1. Unfortunately, the United States’ priority is excluding immigrants, rather than welcoming them, for “national security” purposes1,3.  A common fear and reality for many immigrant families is detainment and subsequent deportation.  As current immigration policy paints the image of immigrants as unauthorized aliens, criminals, and terrorists, many children grow up in fear, questioning the stability of their home lives and sometimes even the character of their own parents1.  Ironically, the United States was a nation built by immigrants, so policies banning and barring future immigrants is extremely hypocritical and anti-nationalistic. For example, although the 2012 Immigration Reform Bill created a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants currently residing in the United States, it also stopped the migration of potential Mexican migrants by increasing the militarization of the border3.  Policies such as these not only go against American values, but also promote isolationism. For a country that prides itself on being a global and diverse melting pot, current immigration policy is contradictory.

These immigration policies paint immigrants as a common enemy of the United States. Immigrants serve as a scapegoat for unrelated internal dysfunction and are paying the price for crimes they have not committed1.  Current immigration policy depicts all immigrants as aliens, criminals, and threats to national security which are misrepresentations. Although President Trump claims that “DREAMers” are not the target of immigration reform, this appears to be false. In fact, Attorney General Sessions has said that all immigrants who enter the country illegally are subject to deportation, so DREAMers cannot “rest easy” as Trump previously reassured. It appears that DREAMers are in danger, as DREAMer Daniela Vargas spoke out against current immigration policies and was swiftly detained by the ICE.

Although these polices may not directly affect immigrant children who are documented, they have uniformly negative outcomes for their development. Though immigrant children themselves may not experience deportation, their parents or other close family members likely will. A parent’s deportation, compounded by existing risk factors and stressors, elevates the likelihood that children of these undocumented immigrants will experience negative developmental outcomes and trajectories1,3.  In addition, deportation of a parent creates an unwanted lengthy, if not permanent, separation between parent and child. In this case, parents must make a “Solomonic decision” to either leave their children in the United States or bring their children along with them to their country of origin, which allows children and parents to maintain their relationship, but severely limits the opportunities children would have had if they remained in the United States1.

Even if families arrive and remain in the United States through legal means, they are still subject to elevated levels of acculturative stress, acculturative dissonance, trauma, and mental illness2.  To address these issues, immigrant families should seek outside help to ease the process of adjustment.  Systematic family therapy shows great promise for immigrant families as it not only helps families regain their homeostasis (stability) but also gives marginalized (underrepresented) family members a voice to communicate their concerns2.  In this way, this sort of therapy not only repairs family relationships but also individual struggles.  However, these psychological interventions must be culturally-competent and realistic in that they must be accessible and affordable for immigrant families.



  1. Allen, B., Cisneros, E. M., & Tellez, A. (2015). The children left behind: The impact of parental deportation on mental health. Journal of Child and Family Studies24, 386–392.
  2. Beckerman, N. L., & Corbett, L. (2008). Immigration and families: Treating acculturative stress from a systemic framework. Family Therapy35, 63– 81.
  3. 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 Orthopsychiatry84, 496–505.


Lia Sorgen Biography

My name is Lia Sorgen. I am a part of the Dickinson College Class of 2018. I am 21 year-old psychology major pursuing a certificate in health studies.  I was born in Hunan, China and adopted by a single American mother.  I grew-up in Bethesda, MD and moved to Carlisle once I became enrolled as a Dickinson undergraduate. My passions include volunteering at the YMCA , Big Brothers Big Sisters, figure skating, and gymnastics.