CATEGORY/THEME: Research, Policy and Practice
TITLE: Familial Deportation Experience, Undocumented Parents, and Depressive Symptoms Among Early Adolescent Latinos
Introduction: Approximately 5.3 million children live with undocumented parents, 85% of whom are U.S.-born citizens. Children who are U.S. citizens are vulnerable to having one or both of their parents deported, while children who are undocumented are also vulnerable to being deported themselves. Children who have had one or both parents deported exhibit increased crying, eating and sleeping disturbances, clingy behavior, increased fear and anxiety, anger and aggression. Living under the constant threat of a parent being deported due to documentation status, can create a pervasive toxic environment that erodes mental and physical wellbeing and exacerbates the stress of having had a family member deported. Because current estimates suggest that 88% of the U.S. population growth over the next 50 years will be due to immigrants or their descendants, of which a majority will be Latino, health disparities are likely to increase without changes in policy and prevention interventions designed to help families cope better.
While emerging literature has documented the impact of family deportation on mental health of younger children, few studies have done so on adolescents. Further, most studies have been conducted on relatively small samples making generalizability more difficult. This study examines whether having a family member deported is associated with depressive symptoms among Latino early adolescents and whether parental documentation moderates this association.
Methods: A general population sample of Latino 7th grade students in an urban public-school district in the South-Central U.S. (N=661), reported on deportation using a single item “Have you ever known of or seen a family member taken away by immigration officials?”, on depression using the CDC’s CED-10, and on parental legal status with one item “What is your parents’ citizenship status in the U.S.?”).
Results: Family deportation and depressive symptoms were significantly and positively associated, although parental citizenship status did not explain any additional variance in youth depression, it significantly moderated the relationship such that youth depressive symptoms increase when both parents are undocumented.
Conclusion: Youth mental health is compromised when a family member is deported. The null finding for parental legal status suggests that a pervasive level of fear spills over into Latinos who are U.S. citizens. Courts, programs, and schools should consider the emotional needs of Latino youth who have conduct problems before administering punitive measures.