U.S. Law Center

The psychological impact of separating immigrant families

People come to the United States to build a better life for their families. However, many immigrants find themselves separated from their families while awaiting decisions on deportation. This causes immense psychological strife that could have a lasting impact, according to the American Psychological Association

When children are separated from their parents, they face an increased risk of developing substantial psychological issues. Along with anxiety and depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can also occur. One study found that kids whose parents were deported or detained had a much higher risk of PTSD than kids whose parents were in the country legally. Even children of illegal immigrants who did not face legal issues fared better, which shows that deportation/detention practices are a likely cause of psychological issues. 

What's even more startling is that aggressive deportation attempts rival the psychological impact caused by countries with high rates of conflict. Researchers found that physical assaults, including beatings and torture, had a similar impact as separation of families. Many illegal immigrants come to the U.S. to escape horrible conditions in their home countries. Harsh detention measures add to this stress and psychological trauma, to the point that serious distress occurs. Once again, children are the most impacted by these separations, which usually have no clear end date. 

Issues with detention centers tasked with holding children also play a role in trauma. The conditions at most shelters demonstrably bad, which only compounds the mental and emotional issues. After visiting a center that was lauded as one of the best in the country, one psychologist found that most of the staff were unable to speak Spanish. Children's health issues were also neglected, and in many cases, psychological problems were not taken seriously. 

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