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Latino parents fear Trump's ICE

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Latino parents fear Trump's ICE

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This article was produced as a project for the Dennis A. Hunt Fund for Health Journalism, a program of the USC Annenberg Center for Health Journalism. It's the fifth in a series of stories exploring how the Trump administration's immigration policies are affecting the physical, mental and emotional health of the kids of undocumented immigrants and health providers and educators who work with them.

Other stories in the series include: 

Advocates fear Trump's rhetoric harms kids from immigrant families

Immigrant kids protective of their parents face anxiety, substance misuse

Health care workers deploy creative strategies to calm terrified immigrant patients

DACA recipients cope with health challenges in face of uncertainty

Trump stokes anxiety among U.S. citizen kids of undocumented parents

"The community as a whole feels terrified and uncertain about their future." (Getty Images)
"The community as a whole feels terrified and uncertain about their future." (Getty Images)
ICE-induced anxiety causes negative health effects.
U.S. News
Thursday, March 8, 2018

The Trump administration's aggressive immigration enforcement policies are causing widespread psychological distress among many Latino parents of adolescents, including not just undocumented mothers and fathers, but parents who are in the country legally and aren't at risk for deportation, according to a study published this month in the Journal of Adolescent Health.

The negative psychological effects over fear of enforcement actions by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents are being felt most acutely by undocumented parents and parents who have temporary protected status (established by Congress in 1990 to shield deportations to countries experiencing war or a natural catastrophe), a program that Trump is rescinding. To a lesser degree, permanent legal residents – people who immigrated to the U.S. and obtained a so-called "green card" allowing them to live and work permanently and legally in the country are also experiencing high levels of anxiety and depression, the study found.

"The community as a whole feels terrified and uncertain about their future," says Kathleen Roche, associate professor in the department of prevention and community health at the Milken Institute School of Public Health of the George Washington University in the District of Columbia and the lead author of the study. "There is an uncertainty about even having permanent legal residency that didn't exist before."

A separate survey, released Feb. 28 by the UCLA Civil Rights Project, found that 90 percent of administrators from more than 730 public schools in 12 states reported observing emotional and behavioral problems among immigrant students worried that they or their parents would be picked up by ICE. Two-thirds of the 3,500 educators who responded also reported that fear and concern for classmates was affecting the education of all students – such as U.S. citizens who were born and raised in the U.S. – who are not targets of ICE enforcement. Such anxiety makes it difficult for teachers to teach and students to learn, the report says.

The new study and survey add to a raft of research showing how fear of ICE affects the health and wellness of kids of immigrants and their parents. For many young people with an undocumented mother or father, terror about ICE enforcement has flipped the typical "parent-as-protector" dynamic. Many kids of undocumented immigrants, most of whom are U.S. citizens themselves, want to shield their parents from ICE and try to be at their side as much as possible in case the parents encounter an immigration agent. Such hypervigilance can make children and teenagers of undocumented parents vulnerable to an array of health problems, such as anxietysubstance misusedepressionsymptoms of PTSDsocial withdrawal and gastrointestinal problems, research suggests.

The number of U.S.-born kids and teenagers living in daily terror that ICE will detain one or both of their parents is significant; about 4.7 million U.S. citizen children have at least one undocumented parent, according to 2014 estimates by the Pew Research Center. The center estimates there are about 11 million undocumented people in the country. Arrests by ICE have soared since Trump took office in January 2017. During the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, 2017, ICE made 143,470 arrests, a 25 percent increase over the previous fiscal year. The ICE crackdown has heightened fears in immigrant communities, anxieties that researchers are studying and measuring.

For the study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health, researchers interviewed 213 Latino parents of adolescents in a suburban community in the mid-Atlantic region; the vast majority of participants, 80 percent, were born in Central America, primarily in El Salvador. A smaller percentage of respondents were born in the United States. Damaris Encarnacion, 41, of suburban Maryland is typical of the group of people researchers interviewed; she's the daughter of a Peruvian mother and a Nicaraguan father, and is a U.S. citizen by virtue of being born in the District of Columbia on the Fourth of July.

About nine months into Trump's presidency, Encarnacion stopped tuning in to TV news regularly. Watching numerous stories about ramped up enforcement by ICE and detentions and deportations of immigrant parents being ripped apart from their kids was too stressful, she says. Trump made deporting undocumented immigrants and building a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border key components of his campaign. Shortly after Trump won the election in November 2016, Encarnacion had a serious talk with her 12-year-old son, Caleb, who like her was born in the U.S. "I told him, 'You need to know where you were born, the city, the state, the hospital, the time of day,'" she says. "I told him he had to be prepared in case law enforcement authorities stopped and asked him for identification and proof of where he's from."

Though she and her son aren't in danger of deportation, knowing that some of her close friends could be detained by ICE agents spiked her stress levels, she says. "When I was regularly watching the news, I wasn't sleeping much," Encarnacion says. "I know people this is affecting, people I think of like another mother, brother or sister. They're in so much fear. Just the thought of all the people I know, it made me cry."

The GW study found that anxiety over the possibility they or someone in their family might be detained and deported by ICE is having particularly profound effects on undocumented parents and mothers and fathers with TPS, which Trump announced he was ending in January. People with TPS have until the fall of 2019 to get their affairs in order and leave the U.S. By far, most TPS beneficiaries – more than 262,000 people – are from El Salvador. The country with the second-highest number of TPS beneficiaries is Honduras, the original home for more than 86,000 individuals protected by the program.

Across noncitizen groups, especially those with TPS, parents expressed different ways that worries about ICE enforcement affected them. This included parents warning their children to avoid authorities, including the police; bypassing medical care and public assistance, (undocumented immigrants and people with TPS aren't eligible for public assistance, but their U.S.-born kids are) and worrying that their children had been negatively affected at school as a consequence of immigration actions and laws, according to the study.

Worries that the children of immigrants are having their education affected by ICE enforcement are well-founded, according to the UCLA survey, which provided a series of questions to administrators, teachers and other certified school staff in a dozen states, including California, Oregon, Texas, Florida, Indiana, Nebraska and Maryland. Apprehension about immigration enforcement affected students in all regions, and educators in southern states reported the highest incidence of impact, the survey found. Among the concerns educators heard voiced most frequently, students spoke of fear their parents will be taken away while they're at school and that they'll never see them again. Apprehension that a parent will lose a job because of his or her immigration status was another frequently expressed concern. Some teachers reported children coming to school hungry because their parents lost their jobs. Across all regions, 70 percent of administrators and certified school staff members reported academic decline among immigrant students, according to the survey.

"Educators from all parts of the country tell us their immigrant students are distracted and living in fear of losing their parents to deportation and this is affecting all the students in their classrooms," says Patricia Gándara, research professor and co-director of the UCLA Civil Rights Project and the study's lead researcher. "As a result, teachers in these mostly low-income schools are being stressed sometimes to the breaking point. The unintended consequences of an immigration enforcement policy that did not consider its impact on the nation's schools will continue to jeopardize the educations of millions of students if allowed to persist."

[This story was originally published by U.S. News.]