Today, Human Impact Partners (HIP), a policy research organization based in Oakland, released the findings from a new report that aims to shed light on the public health consequences of the nation’s broken immigration system and how the currently proposed comprehensive immigration reform bill can help and harm. The report focuses on examining the impacts of the threat of deportation and detention on the physical and mental health of immigrant children and families.
In a teleconference presenting the report, Lili Farhang, Co-Director of Human Impact Partners and one of the lead researchers and authors of the report, painted the landscape that 4.5 million United States citizen children with one or more undocumented parent face.
“If the current rate of deportation continues, 152,000 children this year will have a parent detained or deported and this actually creates a change in the health of these children including issues like detachment,” Farhang stated.
Farhang highlighted that what’s new about HIP’s report is it’s focus on the rarely discussed mental, emotional, and physical health consequences of current immigration policy on children and how these consequences have a long term impact. Citing surveys of mixed status families, she revealed that a third of the parents polled said that their children are afraid half or more of the time. Three fourths of the families surveyed said that their children show signs of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder stemming from living in constant fear of having their families broken apart by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Farhang said that this sort of constant fear imprints on the brain of children creating a toxic stress response which according to Harvard research, “can disrupt the development of brain architecture and other organ systems, and increase the risk for stress-related disease and cognitive impairment, well into the adult years.” This is why HIP and other advocates on the call demand a family unity provisions be kept in whatever comprehensive immigration reform bill is presented for a vote.
Dr. Karen Hacker, Senior Medical Director of Public and Community Health at Cambridge Health Alliance and Executive Director of the Institute for Community Health, a collaboration of three Harvard University teaching hospitals, said on the teleconference that the impact of deportation and detention fears in immigrant children and families also has visible physical impact including negative consequences on cardiovascular health. She also pointed out that through her work with families in the Boston area, she has seen how current immigration policy relates to larger public health issues.
Dr. Hacker explained, “One detention or deportation in the area leads to a fear of anyone in uniform permeating the community. So people miss doctor’s appointments or don’t go to the bakery. The effect that this policy [of detentions and deportations] has extends to community. If we neglect the health access of any segment of society, it has a wider impact on public health like the spread of communicable illness.”
Wendy Cervantes, the Vice President of Immigration and Child Rights Policy at First Focus said the currently proposed immigration bills fall short of providing healthy lives for immigrant families. “The high fees and penalties currently included ask parents to make decisions between fixing their status and taking care of their families,” she said in the teleconference. She also highlighted how a thirteen year path to citizenship and health care exclusions that keep immigrant families from accessing public health programs like Medicaid do more harm to immigrant families already in precarious situations.
Alicia Torres, a mother of four, whose husband is currently in deportation was on the teleconference to tell listeners first hand the impact that detentions and deportations have on children. Since having his father taken away, her thirteen year old son, who displays symptoms of anxiety and is in special education classes in school, has asked questions like, “Are they going to treat us like they treated people during the holocaust?” and “Will take care of us?” Through tears, Torres asked, “Who is going to hug my children? Who is going to help my children?”
The Human Impact Partners report does call for an end to mass detention and deportation programs like Secure Communities and 287(g) so that prosecutorial discretion can be more readily used, especially for undocumented families with children, when asked by Politic365.com about the connection between border security triggers and the pathway citizenship currently included in the bill, Wendy Cervantes said, “ We would argue that we can have border security and family unity security,” but acknowledged that the report did not call for a delinking of border security provisions from provisional resident status.