How US Teens Perceive Immigration Law Is Causing Them Anxiety and Insomnia

A protestor supporting the policy Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.

Twenty-five percent of children in the United States live in immigrant families, the majority of which originate from Latin American countries. While most of these children are US-born citizens, 7.3 percent of their parents are not and are undocumented. These families are being increasingly targeted by federal authorities under the direction of President Donald Trump, and in turn, data shows that the health of these children has eroded as they’ve become worried teenagers.

A study released Monday in JAMA Pediatrics documents the mental and physical health of 397 US-born Latinx adolescents, who primarily identify as Mexican American. They each took part in a longitudinal study of Mexican farmworker families in California. Each adolescent in the study has at least one parent who is an immigrant, and the documentation status of the parent was not recorded.

At the age of 14, each adolescent was assessed for anxiety and depressive symptoms, as well as overall health, blood pressure, and body mass. This process was repeated when they were 16 — one year after President Trump was elected. This time, they were additionally asked about how well they were sleeping and how concerned they were about the effects of immigration policies on their families.

Lead author Brenda Eskenazi, Ph.D., director of UC Berkeley’s Center for Environmental Research and Children’s Health, tells Inverse that prior to the study, her team — both from spending time in this community and from anecdotal evidence — suspected that that anti-immigration rhetoric might be impacting the health of the adolescents.

When they examined the adolescents’ levels of anxiety on a well-established scale of behavior and looked at that information in relation to how they felt about US immigration policies, their suspicions were confirmed.

Between 41 and 45 percent of the 16-year-olds reported that they were at least sometimes worried about the impact of these policies, that their families would be separated, and that a family member would be reported to immigration officials.

By Sarah Sloat for INVERSE
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