Study: Since Trump, Latino Youth Anxiety Over Immigration Has Skyrocketed


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U.S.-born Latino youth with immigrant parents suffer “significantly increased” anxiety over immigration since the election of President Donald Trump in 2016, according to a recent study.

Researchers in California and Arizona studied 397 U.S. citizen children of Latino immigrants. They compared children before the election at age 14 and after the election at age 16, to see if their concerns over immigration policy linked up to worse mental, physical health.

Nearly half the youth worried “at least sometimes” about U.S. immigration policy. That included whether they’d be reported to immigration officials or their parents would be deported.

Their health problems surged after the 2016 election, according to the study.

“Fear and worry about the personal consequences of current U.S. immigration policy and rhetoric appear to be associated with higher anxiety levels, sleep problems, and blood pressure changes among U.S.-born Latino adolescents,” according to the researchers.

The State of Latino Immigration

As of 2018, the U.S. is home to roughly 44.7 million immigrants. That is the most immigrants in the nation’s history, according to the Migration Policy Institute.

Most immigrants—44%—are Latino.

However, two of every three Latinos in the U.S. are native-born. That means the majority of the Latinos you see every day are probably citizens by birth.

The Current Inflammatory Rhetoric about Latino Immigrants

Hate crimes against Latinos are on the rise.

Why? It could be the current political and social climate of inflammatory rhetoric, parental separation, and tear-gassing and detainment of migrants along the border.

Immigrant march protest Latino mediaIn California, for example, media often portrays immigrants with derogatory descriptions. Immigrant voices and healthcare experts are rarely covered.

In this climate, many Latinos feel the anti-immigrant burden, whether they are immigrants or citizens, says Dr. R. Gabriela Barajas-Gonzalez of NYU’s School of Medicine.

Barajas-Gonzalez found prevalent stress and emotional discomfort among those who belonged to families with at least one citizen or legal immigrant child and at least one undocumented parent.

“Current discourse about immigrants and immigration tends to be dehumanizing,” Barajas-Gonzalez told HuffPost. “Dehumanization is never healthy.”

How Immigration Has Impacted Latino Youth Mental Health after Trump’s Election

The new study focuses on the election of Trump in 2016.

Using a cohort of Mexican farmworker families in the Salinas Valley region of California, researchers from the University of California, Berkeley, University of California, San Francisco, and Arizona State University gave 397 youth a health assessment before the election and the first year after the election.

depressed sad mental health latina girl immigrantThey looked at their blood pressure, sleep patterns, and mental health issues.

Here are some of the key findings:

  • The children’s degree of worry in the first year after the 2016 presidential election was associated with higher anxiety and poor sleep quality.
  • The children’s degree of worry was also associated with lower resting systolic blood pressure and mean arterial pressure among males. “These findings possibly reflect a physiologic desensitization in males in response to chronic stress.”
  • After the election, self-reported anxiety symptoms increased markedly among individuals who reported more worry about immigration policy.

“These results support the conclusions of previous research that found US-born Mexican American children may experience collateral health damage from immigration policy that targets their families,” according to the researchers.

Another study found that Latino kids who experience the immigration-related arrest of a family member report more severe levels of depression than those who don’t have such an experience.

This is especially true for children with one or both parents undocumented.

“These arrests often are a distant abstract fear or urban legend for many Latino kids, but it becomes very real and frightening when it happens to their family, which can have serious repercussions for their mental health,” said lead researcher Dr. Zachary Giano of Oklahoma State University, in a press release. “This discriminatory rhetoric has really evolved in a more sinister way, and it’s impacting the Latino community.”

Latinos Already Struggle with Mental Health Issues

Anti-immigrant issues are complicating Latino youth’s mental state as it is.

Latino kids' access to mental health care servicesLatino youth are far more likely than their peers to have mental health issues. These issues often go unaddressed and untreated.

Immigration issues, poverty, bullying, and other factors affect these disparities, according to a Salud America! research review.

Just being a minority can harm mental health.

Now add deportation fear and new public charge rules to the mix.

Janet Murguía, president and CEO of the Latino civil rights organization UnidosUS, places some of the responsibility on President Donald Trump, according to NPR.

“President Trump frequently refers to Latinos in the most hateful and bigoted ways, and words matter,” she said.

What Are Healthcare Professionals Doing?

Some health care leaders are working to help immigrants.

Researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital’s Disparities Research Unit have tested a novel preventive intervention to provide tailored treatment for Latino immigrants with both mental health and substance misuse symptoms.

Also, Dr. Heyman Oo treated a lot of traumatized child immigrants as a pediatrician in California hospitals and clinics.

Dr. Heyman Oo Speaking at Families Belong Together San Francisco Rally Source Pax Ahimsa Gethen
Dr. Heyman Oo Speaking at Families Belong Together San Francisco Rally in June 2018. Source: Pax Ahimsa Gethen

Oo wanted to help. She joined a task force to support children amid a growing number of unaccompanied minors being apprehended at the California border.

They started a school-based intervention to provide mental health services to students who may otherwise fall through the cracks. They use art therapy, mindfulness, trauma narrative therapy, and psychoeducation to help students process their journeys.

“Initial data support that participation in [the program] is associated with improved psychosocial functioning,” according to a report.

UnidosUS also has programs to help Latino youth.

Scientists from the Society of Behavioral Medicine recommend that Congress restrict Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) intervention in or around medical facilities.

“Protecting the health of immigrants promotes health equity and is an important investment in protecting the health of the American public including schools, families, communities, and workforce,” SBM’s report states.

What Can You Do?

Check out if you have any implicit bias against immigrants or those in poverty.

You can also seek training or help put an end to microaggressions.

Dr. Jabraan Pasha, implicit bias researcher
Dr. Jabraan Pasha

Check out stories of people who are overcoming biases:

  • Dr. Rogelio Saenz overcome implicit bias growing up and in his career. He became a well-respected UT San Antonio researcher using data and demographics to set up social justice solutions.
  • Dr. Jabraan Pasha created a training workshop to spread awareness of implicit bias in healthcare.
  • Kelly Capatosto and the Kirwan Institute are doing significant research and training on implicit bias.

Take the Implicit Association Test now!


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immigrants live in the United States

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