Deporting parents inflicts trauma, depression on children in Rio Grande Valley, report finds

Human Impact Partners and La Union del Pueblo Entero (LUPE) released a report detailing some of the impacts which federal enforcement policies and collaboration policies like SB4 have had on the health of border residents living in the Rio Grande Valley. Their findings are deeply concerning.

In the Rio Grande Valley, “everyday activities” such as driving, going to the doctor, buying groceries, etc. can result in “severe consequences for children and [entire] families.” In 2017, immigration officials deported at least 2,800 Rio Grande Valley residents.

Among those most deeply affected are children.

According to the report’s findings by the public health research organization and immigrant rights advocacy group, nearly one in five of the children of Valley residents surveyed experienced symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), compared with one in 20 children nationally. Among the children of undocumented parents, over one-fourth experienced stress because of a parent’s immigration status (compared to one-tenth of children of U.S. citizen parents).

Experiencing severe, prolonged adversity without adult support can lead to toxic stress, a form of extreme stress that negatively impacts a child development, even changing the actual biology of a child’s brain. Children of undocumented parents also exhibited higher rates of school avoidance anxiety, withdrawal, depression, and aggression. According to the report released in October, immigration concerns may also be impacting children’s access to healthy food and physical activity.

If deportations remain at current levels, the report warns that 800 US-born kids in the RGV will suffer through withdrawal and other symptoms of toxic stress each year.

The effects of the immigration policies and policies unfolding at the border may be more far-reaching than originally expected.

In addition to lasting effects on children who are living with fear now or who have experienced the deportation of a parent, adult stress caused by the threat of detention or deportation may also pose a danger for children who have not yet been born. Children of parents with “protected” status like DACA and even children of U.S. citizen parents, furthermore, are also showing signs of a negative health impact.

Adults aren’t faring any better. Among those interviewed, many disclosed experiencing heightened anxiety, migraines, and a variety of other symptoms. Among the RGV undocumented community, more than half said their health was poor or fair. By comparison, in 2017, 25 percent of the Latinx population as a whole in the United States reported fair or poor health. Twenty-eight percent reported difficulty exercising because of their undocumented status compared to 14 percent of citizens.

According to the report, stress affects the levels of hormones like cortisol and adrenaline in the body. After sustained stress, people’s bodies can lose the ability to turn off the physical stress response, leading to “wear and tear” on the body’s systems and organs. Experiencing a high level of stress hormones can also lead to high blood pressure, heart disease, strokes, increased risk of cancer and chronic disease, obesity, diabetes, and more.

In order to avoid further health impacts, advocates stress the importance of disentangling local police from deportation practices and of having local police departments utilize their discretionary powers to increase “cite and release” practices during standard traffic stops.

Report highlights

General:

• About eight out of 10 people in the Valley are of Mexican descent.
• Approximately 75,000 children in the Rio Grande Valley live in mixed-status families, where one or more of their parents are undocumented.
• Approximately 1,800 US-born kids in the Rio Grande Valley had a parent deported in FY 2017.
• Cameron and Hidalgo County are designated as Health Professional Shortage Areas in regards to mental health resources and providers. Starr and Willacy County, in turn, have been designated as High Needs Health Professional Shortage Areas for mental health, dental health, and primary care.

Children:

• 40 percent of undocumented respondents had a child who showed symptoms of school avoidance anxiety, compared to less than one-third with protected status and one-fifth among people with citizen status. One-fourth of undocumented parents reported that their child had trouble keeping up with their grades.
• More than half of undocumented parents reported that their child feared their parents might get deported, compared to less than one-fifth of parents with protected or citizen status.
• Over one-fourth of undocumented parents reported that their child experienced stress because of a parent’s immigration status, compared to one-tenth among parents with protected status and less than one-tenth among citizen parents
• As a result, children’s lives are being impacted. One-sixth of parents in mixed-status families reported, for example, their children missed outdoor physical activity due to immigration concerns. Immigration status also changes how well a child eats. One-sixth of parents in mixed-status families reported their child had not eaten well.
• The impact continues past deportation. A 2010 Urban Institute study found that more than two-thirds of children ages 12 to 17 showed signs of withdrawal or detachment from other people six months after authorities arrested their parents for immigration reasons. In 2015, a second study showed that children with a deported parent were significantly more likely to experience anxiety and depression, as well as display aggression.
• More frequently, however, deportation tactics have more subtle consequences for a great number of young children, who fearing “illegality,” begin to dissociate with their immigrant heritage and identity.

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