On the heels of May, Mental Health Awareness Month, Representatives Roybal-Allard (D-CA), Napolitano (D-CA), and Jayapal (D-WA) have a new, joint op-ed for The Hill on the psychological trauma generated by Trump’s immigration orders and similar state-based policies, including the Texas “show-me-your-papers” SB4 law.
“Harsh U.S. immigration policies are causing mental, social harm to American children” is excerpted below and available in full here.
Roughly one in four American children younger than 18 live in immigrant families, and over four million U.S.-citizen children have at least one undocumented parent. A sense of safety and belonging is key to their psychological development. Feeling secure is critical to them thriving emotionally, academically and socially. Conversely, evidence has shown that adverse childhood experiences, like intense uncertainty and fear, are detrimental to their health.
Currently, too many children live in daily fear that their parents could be arrested, detained or deported at any moment. There are numerous stories of groggy children waking up to see their parents handcuffed and taken away late at night, or arrested by an ICE agent on the way to school. These heartbreaking stories will only increase if laws like Texas’ Senate Bill 4, a “show me your papers” law, continue to see the light of day. This unjust law calls on law enforcement and campus police to inquire about immigration status, including questioning children, and mandates fines and jail time for elected officials and law enforcement who fail to comply with the discriminatory law, even though it may make them complicit in violating constitutional safeguards.
Children of immigrants—the large majority of whom are U.S. citizens—are confronted daily with the effects of anti-immigrant policies, such as xenophobic comments shouted in public, bullying on the playground, and having a general feeling that they don’t belong here. All of these lead to chronic, sometimes traumatizing, stress.
Researchers and clinicians have found that stress related to immigration can cause serious physical effects on smaller kids, including tantrums and bedwetting. Older children can become withdrawn, distracted, and even have stomachaches or insomnia. They may start performing poorly in school, avoiding school altogether, or acting out in rage.
As more children of immigrants become targets of bullying, such mistreatment may lead to children withdrawing socially, which prevents them from building healthy social relationships, a crucial element of their development. As one parent from the Los Angeles area recounted, “My daughter is having nightmares. Kids are afraid to go to school. I do my best to keep the TV off. We are not criminals. We are just trying to create a better life for our children.
Today, the administration and some lawmakers are choosing through inhumane immigration laws to separate children from their parents and instill deep anxiety and distress within immigrant communities, affecting the well-being of millions of American children for generations to come. Rather than rip apart hardworking parents from their children, our society should provide meaningful immigration reforms, and invest in these children.