Deportation Fears Trigger Anxiety and Sleep Problems for Latinx Teens

Deportation Fears Trigger Anxiety and Sleep Problems for Latinx Teens

07.16.19
Photo: Kevin Sullivan/Orange County Register via Getty Images
07.16.19

Even though the raids targeting migrant families that President Trump announced last month are — so far at least — smaller than expected, fear has intensified in many immigrant communities. But let’s not forget: more than 5 million people were deported under Obama, who came to be known as “deporter in chief” by some immigration advocates. So why the uptick in fear now? 

Today we have a president who keeps broadcasting how bad the crackdowns will be.

“Announcing on Twitter that you’re going to do raids — I mean, really? What is the purpose of that?” remarked Centro Legal De La Raza’s Carolina Martin Ramos, the organization’s interim immigrant rights directing attorney. 

“If you’re growing up in a mixed-status family, you’re going to have PTSD or you’re going to suffer some type of trauma from living through this.” 

Ramos’s own mother came to this country illegally from Mexico. “I can tell you that it definitely impacts and traumatizes us in really negative ways. It’s hard for us to talk about our feelings openly like that without putting [family members] in danger.”

New research from the University of California, Berkeley has found evidence of the mental health toll on U.S.-born Latino adolescents in California since the 2016 presidential election. The study found higher anxiety levels, sleep problems and blood pressure changes, especially among young people in the most vulnerable families. Among young people surveyed, 44.6% said they worried at least sometimes about family separation due to deportation.

YR Media’s Nina Roehl spoke with study co-author Brenda Eskenazi, who is a professor of maternal and child health and epidemiology at UC Berkeley.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Nina Roehl: Can you briefly explain your findings from the study?

Brenda Eskenazi: We administered a scale when the youth were 16 years old called the Perceived Immigration Policy Effect Scale. That gauges their level of concern about the effects of U.S. immigration policy upon them and their family. Then we look at their report on this immigration policy scale in relationship to mental and physical health concurrently.

What we saw was that children who had higher levels of immigration policy effects, compared to those with lower levels, had greater anxiety and sleep problems at age 16. But, moreover, we saw a significant increase in the amount of anxiety from age 14 relative to kids who had lower levels of the effect of the immigration policy.

We did not ask the immigration status of their parents. But, we did look at the children that had parents who had immigrated more recently and they were more affected than those whose parents lived in the United States for a longer period of time. Those youth that had parents who had been here less time, were those that had the greatest increase in anxiety in relation to this Immigration Policy Effects Scale.

N.R: Were you surprised by these findings? 

B.E No. It did not surprise me. The reason why we started doing the study was, in the week right after the election we had about 10 youth from the community in our office and we had a discussion about the perceived effects of the election on their well-being. And a few students were pretty upset. In fact, one was crying and said that they were really concerned about their family. We realized then and there that we had to immediately go into the field with our questionnaire. 

N.R: How can these impacts play out in their everyday lives? 

B.E: Inability to focus in school and that that could be related to their academic performance. It’s [also] possible that they may be more likely to engage in other risk-taking behavior.

N.R: How was sleep impacted?

B.E: We actually used something called the Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index. But we only administer that at age 16 so we couldn’t look at the change from before to after the 2016 election. We could only look at it concurrently and we could see that the kids that had higher levels of perceived immigration policy effects were the ones who are more likely to have sleep quality problems. 

N.R: What you would recommend for people who are struggling with these mental health impacts?

B.E: Right now, to provide mental health services within the community. Not just for DACA or for parents or kids that may be undocumented. We can see that the implications are not just on the families and children and adults that are being targeted, they are also affecting those that are not being targeted specifically.

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