Immigration policies can create public health issues affecting entire communities, two advocacy groups say in a new report focusing on families in Texas’ Rio Grande Valley.
Human Impact Partners, whose aim is to apply public health principles to policy questions, and La Unión Del Pueblo Entero, a community-based organization of immigrants in the Valley, wanted to learn how immigration policies “impact individual, family and community well-being,” said Jonathan Heller, a co-director of Human Impact.
Researchers surveyed 212 residents affected by the immigration system and conducted three focus groups. They also interviewed local medical, education and business professionals and used statistics from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to estimate the number of people in the region who are touched by the immigration system.
They estimate that approximately 1,800 U.S.-born children in the Rio Grande Valley had a parent deported by immigration officials in fiscal year 2017, Heller said.
Of the undocumented parents surveyed:
- 29 percent reported that their children experienced serious stress because of a parent’s immigration status and more than half said their children feared they would be deported;
- 19 percent reported that their children exhibited symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), about four times higher than the prevalence of that disorder in the general U.S. population, and
- 40 percent said their children exhibited school avoidance, as did 30 percent of immigrant parents with protected status and 20 percent of those who are U.S. citizens.
Fear of deportation causes direct stress for entire families that affects mental and physical health. Children experiencing serious anxiety and PTSD symptoms are familiar to anyone who works with immigrant families, said Rachel Osborn, a social worker in Washington, D.C. She is senior clinical manager of the School Based Mental Health Program at Mary’s Center for Maternal and Child Care, which has locations in both Washington and Maryland.
“It manifests in all sorts of ways: difficulty focusing in class, low motivation, gastric complaints, even anxiety attacks,” Osborn said. “I remember clearly a child clinging to her mother, not wanting to go into the school building because she was afraid her mom would be deported while she was at school.”
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