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Immigration controversies affect the mental health of the Latino community in the US.

Immigration controversies affect the mental health of the Latino community in the US.
New research, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, showed controversies on immigration issues that affect the mental health of the Latino community; there is more anxiety and depression at times of greater enforcement of immigration law between 2011 and 2018.

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The controversies that often arise regarding immigration throughout the American Union significantly affect the mental health of the Latino community in the United States, including native-born citizens, according to a new study.

The new research, published Feb. 20 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, showed that foreign-born Latinos living in the United States, including those with U.S. citizenship, reported having more anxiety and depression at times of increased app of immigration law between 2011 and 2018. 

The study focused on measuring feelings of anxiety and depression in noncitizen Latinos, naturalized citizens, and U.S.-born citizens. This recorded participants' responses to monthly surveys about changes in immigration policy, law enforcement, and public interest to better understand the effects these had on the mental health of Latinos.

“As a group, Latinos are racialized by public policies, by the implementation of public policies and by the political rhetoric of the United States,” said Asad L. Asad, assistant professor of sociology in the Stanford School of Humanities and Sciences and author main of the study.

"Latinos, considered undocumented or 'illegal' in the United States, feel threatened by deportation, even when they are citizens and presumably immune to it," the expert pointed out.

The study also measured enforcement by the number of detention notices sent by federal authorities to police departments across the country asking them to hold noncitizens for possible deportation.

According to the document, Latino citizens born in the United States also expressed greater psychological distress in response to immigration problems. 

And, according to their psychological distress scores, they were more closely related to greater public attention to immigration (measured as the volume of related searches on Google) than to actual increases in law enforcement.

The study stated that levels of anxiety and depression were measured using the Kessler-6 Psychological Distress Scale, administered regularly through the National Health Interview Survey program to a representative sample of long-term US residents over the age of 18 years. 

Higher scores on the questionnaire indicate greater psychological distress, whether from anxiety, depression, or both.

?If you are a Latino American citizen, perhaps your mental health still feels good when deportations increase nationally because you are not directly vulnerable to deportation. But doesn't that make you immune to the broader racist conversation that arises when, for example, some politicians describe Latinos, as an ethnic group, in a negative way? Asad said. “You start to internalize that as you go about your daily life.”

Political debates affect individual mental health outcomes

Asad's research and her recent book Engage and Evade (Princeton University Press, 2023) focus on how institutional categories, such as citizenship, influence people's mental, physical, economic, and social well-being.

In a previous article he showed that fear of deportation had a growing trend among Latino citizens, while it remained high but stable among non-citizens. 

In this newly published study, Asad and his colleagues set out to understand how a changing political environment can influence mental health.

Initially, researchers expected that major immigration-related events, such as the Obama administration's 2012 announcement of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program or Donald Trump's rise to the presidency in 2016 after making campaign to repeal it, would reduce or increase depression and anxiety.

“We predicted that these big events would have very clear relationships with Latino psychological distress, but we found that they didn't matter as much as we thought,” Asad said.

Although Asad and his colleagues observed more psychological distress among noncitizen Latinos after the 2016 election, they showed that the everyday immigration environment was more closely linked to mental health than high-profile events. 

Analysts detailed that, when quantifying the overall immigration enforcement environment each month, the threat of deportation negatively impacts individuals even when they are not at risk of deportation.

“Our work shows that a deportation-focused approach is psychologically harmful to noncitizens and even U.S. citizens,” Asad stressed.

The research does not suggest that increases in anxiety and depression were exclusively Latino or immigration-related problems. Accounts of growing anxiety abound, blaming everything from technology and climate change to political polarization, and Asad and his colleagues acknowledge this general trend in their paper.

“We largely live in an era of anxiety,” Assad added.

The research showed that psychological distress increased between 2011 and 2018 among Latinos overall and among U.S.-born non-Hispanic black and white populations. 

The researchers considered these latter populations as comparison groups "neither vulnerable nor targeted for deportation." The increasing psychological distress in the comparison groups did not align with increased immigration enforcement or public debate as it did in the Latino groups.


You may be interested in: The importance of the value of the ethnic vote in the United States for the next elections

Pamela Cruz
Pamela Cruz
Editor-in-Chief of Peninsula 360 Press. A communicologist by profession, but a journalist and writer by conviction, with more than 10 years of media experience. Specialized in medical and scientific journalism at Harvard and winner of the International Visitors Leadership Program scholarship from the U.S. government.


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