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The Trump Administration’s Assault On The Undocumented Community Is Negatively Impacting People’s Mental Health

“I’d gone from being this really gregarious, social, extroverted person to not being able to go to the grocery store when there were other people around because I felt like I was having a heart attack,” undocumented immigrant Azul Uribe told USA Today about her experience of learning that she was undocumented at 22 years old. Uribe moved to the United States from México when she was 11 years old, proud to be a first-generation immigrant. It wasn’t until her 22nd birthday that her family told her they were all undocumented. For Uribe, that’s the moment that her mental health would change forever. Three years of immigration legal battles later, she voluntarily deported from the U.S. at 36 years old, taking a bus to a place that she hadn’t been to since she was a child.

Roughly 10 million undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. are subject to far higher rates of depression, anxiety, and trauma-related stress because of their status. It’s also their status that prevents them from accessing treatment.

While Trump hasn’t deported nearly as many immigrants as Obama, his administration’s anti-immigrant rhetoric has created a far more intense culture of fear.

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Obama’s administration did not advertise its hardline immigration stances or boast about ICE raids. Trump, however, has listed ongoing threats of ICE raids as promises to his base that have resulted in millions of undocumented immigrants becoming afraid to even grocery shop. A recent study by the Urban Institute shows that immigrant families that avoid routine activities for fear of ICE are three times more likely to experience psychological distress than immigrant families who don’t avoid those same daily routines. 

Researchers and psychologists are pointing to a chronic state of elevated fear response as responsible for the depression, anxiety and stress exacerbated in the undocumented community.

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Liliana Campos, 32, has become a permanent resident in the last year, but the 22 years of fear she felt prior still puts her on high alert when ICE raid rumors are spread. “It’s very alarming to be in a position to be in,” Campos told USA Today of her previous undocumented status. “Our fear response is activated every day for years. It has consequences.” Today, Campos is a P.h.D. student at the University of San Francisco working on a doctoral degree in clinical psychology. She also works for Immigrants Rising as the Mental Health Advocate and is creating an online service that will connect undocumented people with pro bono mental health workers.

Undocumented immigrants also lack access to health care, often needing to pay out of pocket for any kind of medical treatment.

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Gustavo Guerrero, 27, suffers from anxiety as a result of his undocumented status. Guerrero, originally from Honduras, swam across the Rio Grande when he was 12 years old. “It’s always in the back of your mind,” Guerrero told USA Today. “You’re driving, you’re working, you’re sleeping in your home, you’re picking up your kids from school, you’re constantly thinking about it.” Without health insurance, the only way he can treat his anxiety is by paying the full $150 per therapy session out of pocket, and he can only go once a month. 

Some families have been torn apart because mental healthcare access wasn’t available to treat severe mental illness.

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Garcia Mendoza, 23, has dedicated her life to helping the undocumented community cope with stress through holistic health practices like yoga and breathwork. She and her older brother moved to Albuquerque from México when she was 8 years old. Two years later, her brother began suffering from bipolar disorder. Without access to resources and fear of even searching for those resources, her parents felt like they had no choice but to send him back to México for treatment. Mendoza grew up in Albuquerque without her brother.

Mixed status families suffer as a family unit for fear of deportation as well.

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Undocumented immigrants move to the United States to create a new life for themselves. That life includes creating a family. The children of undocumented immigrants who carry U.S. citizenship grow up in fear of their parents being deported. Regardless of status, the rhetoric of President Trump has seeped into brown children’s heads. Cristian Solano-Córdova told USA Today that maintaining a positive sense of self is challenging, “especially when society is telling you that you’re, you know, evil, that you’re a criminal, that you’re a rapist.” 

The night Trump was elected, his eight-year-old sister asked him if she was going to be deported.

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