Immigration Limbo is a ‘Tug of Emotions.’ It’s Also a Mental Health Issue.

He’s walking on the edge of an abyssal, black lake, painfully aware of what lies beneath the water. Ominous waves keep crashing ashore, reaching for him.

That’s how Ravi Ragbir sees the trauma that engulfs his long and scarring deportation battle. It didn’t spare his mental health: sudden spasms of sadness, his chest closing up, tears choking his throat, his heart racing. They’re all signs that he’s getting too close to the lake — the imaginary place where he confines his suffering.

“I don’t want to fall in; I will break down,” says Ragbir. The water is a psychological tool he uses to curb his recurring emotional anguish.

“I basically shut down for a day or two, most of the time closed in myself. It drains me.”

As he talks about the lake, he breathes deeply to regain composure, straddling a fine line between trying to describe the fresh pain that wells up unpredictably and not letting that pain overwhelm him.

Ragbir is a former green card holder who became a popular immigrant organizer in New York City when he decided to transform his deportation case into a vehicle of resistance. In March, after nearly a decade of nerve-wracking check-ins with federal immigration agents, he was told to start preparing travel documents to return to Trinidad, which he left in 1994. When he walked out of the meeting, his whole body was trembling.

Ragbir says he started to feel the weight of his immigration struggle in 2010, a few years after he was ordered removed from the US. Since then, he’s been through appeals and check-ins with authorities and has had many depressive episodes. He calls them a “tug of emotions” and never talked about them before. But after his last intense crisis in June, he decided to open up.

Over 43 million immigrants who live in the US could be affected, directly or indirectly, by the turn of the screw of the Trump administration’s policies on immigration enforcement. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s new policy is to no longer tolerate anyone without papers, and Donald Trump has endorsed legislation that would significantly decrease legal immigration. While the Obama administration came around to a targeted deportation strategy, the Trump administration has proclaimed that it will “take the shackles off” immigration enforcers.

By Tiziana Rinaldi for PRI
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