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Latino immigrant families experience greater threats from a negative immigration climate that can lead to increased anxiety for children and difficulty paying attention in school, according to a new study from the American Psychological Association (APA).
“We found substantial variability in perceived immigration threat, with immigrant parents and Latinx parents reporting significantly greater levels of immigration threat compared to nonimmigrant parents and non-Latinx parents,” according to APA.
Heightened anxiety and other negative mental health issues can greatly affect Latino children in their development.
Let’s explore the impact of discriminatory anti-immigrant rhetoric on Latino kids and what steps we can take to support Latino youth mental health.
What Does the APA Report Say about an Anti-Immigrant Climate?
To conduct this study, Dr. R. Gabriela Barajas-Gonzalez of NYU’s School of Medicine and her team of researchers surveyed over 168 families from racially and ethnically diverse backgrounds with children in preschool.
They measured the association between immigration enforcement threat, youth mental health, self-regulation, and executive functioning and whether the parents’ immigrant status or the child’s gender impacted the association.
Barajas-Gonzalez found that during the Trump administration, when anti-immigrant rhetoric was abundant in the media, Latino immigrant families felt more threatened than their counterparts.
“Immigration enforcement threat was associated with greater child separation anxiety and overanxious behaviors, and lower self-regulation among boys and girls and among children of immigrant and U.S.-born parents,” according to APA.
This can highly impact how children are able to develop and learn in school, say the researchers.
That’s why teachers need to be aware of how Latino immigrant kids may need extra support.
“Educators and healthcare providers working with young children from immigrant and Latinx households should be aware of the disproportionate stress experienced by immigrant and Latinx families due to a xenophobic sociopolitical climate marked by heightened immigration enforcement threat and racist, anti-immigrant rhetoric,” according to APA.
How Mental Health Impacts Latino Youth
As of 2018, the U.S. is home to roughly 44.7 million immigrants. Most of them—44%—are Latino.
Unfortunately, an anti-immigrant climate is growing.
In states that border Mexico like Texas and California, for example, biased media often portrays immigrants with derogatory descriptions and immigrant voices and healthcare experts are rarely covered.
“Current discourse about immigrants and immigration tends to be dehumanizing,” Barajas-Gonzalez told HuffPost. “Dehumanization is never healthy.”
This, along with other factors like poverty and financial hardship, contribute to a high rate of mental health issues among Latino youth.
“22% of Latino youth have depressive symptoms. That is higher than any group besides Native American youth,” according to a Salud America! research review.
Latino communities also often lack mental health resources and tools.
“Fewer Latino parents reported that their child had ever used mental health care services (8%) compared to white children (14%),” according to a Salud America! research review.
Particularly for immigrant families, it can be difficult to process some of the hardships of immigration.
That’s why we – teachers, advocates, parents, and community members – need to help Latino youth.
How Can We Help Latino Youth in an Anti-Immigrant Climate?
Immigration can be traumatic.
Latino families face tough finances and difficult travel before and during migration to the United States. Many Latino children are separated from parents. After migrating, they face language issues and discrimination, according to a Salud America! research review.
That’s why mental health professionals like Cheryl Aguilar want to help families experiencing the trauma of immigration with adjusting to new life in the U.S.
Aguilar helped co-author a 10-step manual to help DACA recipients heal from anxiety related to their immigration status.
“In this dire time, when DACA recipients and the immigrant community is experiencing heightened anxiety, depression and reliving past traumas, we want everyone in need of support to receive it,” she said.
Each step in the guide includes introductory information as well as a list of resources for further reading and education.
- Listen to the Stories of DACA Recipients.
- Explore the Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic.
- Learn the Basics of Immigration Policy and Stay Attuned to Changes.
- Identify and Challenge Your Own Biases and Misconceptions About Immigrants.
- Review Existing Models and Recommendations for Clinical Work with Immigrants.
- Integrate Trauma-Informed Care and Multicultural Competence in Your Clinical Style.
- Strengthen Psychological and Behavioral Coping Strategies.
- Foster Immigrants’ Wisdom and Resilience.
- Connect with Community Resources: Legal Support, Educational Programs, Financial Help, Health Services, Advocacy and Activist Groups.
- Engage in Continuing Education, Supervision, Consultation, and Professional Support.
For more on each step, view the full guide.
We can also help children who witness traumatic events, like domestic violence or murder.
These kids still have to go to class or carry on with virtual school in the COVID-19 pandemic.
They face a burden of stress and trauma that can interfere with their behavior and grades—and schools often aren’t even aware there’s an issue.
Download the free Salud America! “Handle With Care Action Pack.”
The Action Pack helps police, school, and mental healthcare leaders start the Handle with Care program, in which police notify schools when they encounter children at a traumatic scene, so schools can provide support right away. They can virtually support kids if school is out for a holiday break or closed due to COVID-19.