Raids and deportations are often viewed as workplace and legal issues. But there are some very good reasons that we should also view raids and deportations as mental health issues.

In October of 2007, the Urban Institute and National Council of la Raza (NCLR) released a 109 page report entitled, Paying the Price: The Impact of Immigration Raids on America’s Children. According to the report, there are almost 5 million children in the United States with at least one undocumented parent–and because of our nation’s broken immigration system, any of these children’s parents could be detained or deported at any time.

The psychological consequences of having a parent suddenly taken away can be devastating, especially when children are too young to understand why their mother or father is suddenly gone. There is also a risk of children “personalizing” their parent’s disappearance; a child may believe that he or she is somehow responsible, or that their parent’s sudden disappearance is connected to his or her own behavior.

The resulting stress, guilt, grief, and anxiety can harm a child’s mental and emotional well-being. Schoolwork, behavior, and relationships may suffer. Paying the Price details the consequences a workplace raid had for one 8 year-old boy.

For one eight-year-old boy, stress associated with his mother’s arrest manifested in health problems. Although his mother was released on the evening of the raid, he was unexpectedly picked up from school by a friend. While in the friend’s care, the boy overheard a conversation about
the raid and cried for a couple of hours until his mother arrived home. Following his mother’s return, he found out about her possible deportation and experienced major separation anxiety. He was described as nervous and clingy after the raid, even though he had never displayed such symptoms before. He experienced repeated nightmares from which he sometimes awoke with uncontrollable shaking and loss of breath. He was taken to the hospital twice, and doctors diagnosed him with major anxiety disorder resulting from post-raid stress.

Paying the Price, p. 53

Stories like these remind serve as a reminder of how important it is to honor family ties, even when those ties cross legal boundaries of immigration status. They also remind us of the need to continue to advocate for just and compassionate family-based immigration reform.

About the Author
Lisa Swanson

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