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Understanding Immigration Trauma in the United States

The immigration crisis that has been hotly debated in American political circles in recent years is also a mental health crisis. Since 2021, more than six million “migrant encounters” have been reported by the United States Border Patrol. Out of this number, only 384,000 asylum applications have been processed by adjudicators from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). What stands out from the staggering number of migrant encounters is that most of them have unfortunate life stories to tell. Moreover, their troubles are often compounded when they reach the U.S.

In June 2023, researchers from the psychological sciences department at Rice University published a study in the Journal of Traumatic Stress about the hardships and emotionally charged situations faced by migrants in the U.S. The research subjects were 253 Latin American immigrants who made it across the southern border with Mexico. All of them were undocumented despite having submitted asylum requests and waiting for the next step. After the immigrants had clinical interviews with psychologists, the immediate findings showed that most migrants had experienced one or more of the following traumatic events:

  • Crime and violence in the countries they escaped from
  • Crime and violence while walking across Mexico to reach the U.S.
  • Sex trafficking
  • No access to reasonable primary healthcare or mental health counseling
  • Humiliation and discrimination from residents of the American communities where they became stranded

Other issues mentioned in the study call attention to additional harsh realities, such as being separated from family members, although these situations were more common during the Trump administration. This is what immigration trauma is about, and it doesn’t stop when migrants cross the border, even if they have the help of compassionate attorneys such as those who provide immigration services in San Diego.

A Looming Mental Health Crisis

Persistent anxiety and depression are becoming more common among migrants seeking asylum. This is caused by past traumatic experiences combined with issues related to their new lives in the U.S. We’re talking about the glacial pace and uncertainty of USCIS processing, particularly when migrants need work permits so they can start earning and sending remittances to their loved ones back home. Those who venture into working “under the table” as undocumented migrants fear being caught because this could compromise their asylum requests.

The Rice University researchers underscore the pressing need for making mental health services accessible to individuals suffering from immigration trauma, particularly children and women who don’t have support systems in the U.S. This needs to be done in a manner that takes into account the diverse cultural backgrounds of migrants, and it needs to start now because this is a looming mental health crisis that could have many negative consequences for American society.

In California, undocumented migrants can now enroll in the Medi-Cal healthcare management program. A similar strategy is being formulated in New York City. These approaches have been heavily criticized by American political commentators who either ignore immigration trauma or believe in the mass deportation policies of the Trump administration. Access to mental health screening and counseling is a solid first step, but comprehensive immigration reform would be even better. 

Seeing help from a highly qualified immigration attorney is one of the best ways to make the immigration process less difficult and traumatic. If you need reliable, high-quality legal advice about San Diego immigration issues, reach out to the immigration law specialists at KS Visa Law. To schedule an appointment, call us today.

June 2024
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