Latino Parents Experiencing Distress

New and rapidly changing immigration policies in the U.S. are having adverse effects on Latino parents and their families according to a report by researchers from the Milken Institute School of Public Health at George Washington University.

Kathleen M. Roche, MSW, PhD and her colleagues analyzed data gathered in a survey of 213 Latino parents of adolescents. Roughly two-thirds of those surveyed were either U.S. citizens, green card holders, or had temporary protected status. The remainder had no legal status in the U.S. and are currently undocumented. Although the undocumented group in the survey was smaller, approximately two thirds or 64 percent of Latino parents reported worrying either very often or always about the possibility of family members being separated.

Living in the Shadows

Immigration news and events affected survey participants negatively both emotionally and behaviorally. They reported a deliberate change in interaction with authorities with almost 40 percent saying they would avoid going to police for help, seeking medical care, or support from social services. Nearly 50 percent also reported that they always or very often warn their adolescent children about avoiding authorities and tell them to be careful about their behavior, routines, and where they choose to spend their time.

Those emotionally impacted the most were the undocumented parents, permanent residents, and people with temporary protected status. The study found that frequent worrying caused by immigration events was linked to a 300 percent increase in the likelihood of depression and symptoms of clinical anxiety. This link remained even after researchers accounted for gender, residency status, and the parents’ level of education.

Psychological Toll on Families Impacted by Immigration Policy

In the press release for the new study, Roche noted that high levels of psychological distress in Latino parents impacts the entire family. Research has shown that adolescents whose parents suffer from depression and anxiety are more likely to do poorly in school and engage in risky behavior. They are also at risk for developing long term physical and mental health problems. Although the immigration status of the study participants varied, most of the adolescent children of the Latino parents were U.S. citizens or have legal status under the Deferred Action Childhood Arrivals (DACA) law. Despite their legal status and having grown up in the United States they still face significant health risks that other teenagers do not.

In 2017, an essay published in the New England Journal of Medicine documented the significant positive effects of immigration law, saying the implementation of DACA rivals the consequences of any recent large-scale health or social policies. The authors cited data that showed a 40 percent decline in rates of severe or moderate psychological distress in DACA-eligible patients. In children of DACA eligible mothers, the rates of anxiety and adjustment dropped by more than 50 percent.

Both studies emphasize the impact of immigration policy on health and raise concerns about being able to provide high quality health care to the immigrant population regardless of immigration status.

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