Study explores mental health of children of deportees

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A new study by Social Work Dean Luis Zayas seeks to explore the mental impact of deportation of Mexican immigrants on their U.S.-born children.

Because of an increase in deported Mexican immigrant parents, their U.S.-citizen children may experience adverse mental health affects, Zayas said.

In collaboration with the University of California at Davis Health System and the National Institute of Psychiatry in Mexico, researchers will interview 80 children and assess present mental conditions according to level of depression, trauma and overall effects on self-esteem and image.

The project will be the first federally-funded research of its kind to look at the experiences of children of deportees, Zayas said.

“The idea for the study came out of my clinical practice in evaluating young children — children of Hispanic background for immigration court in cases seeking cancellation of removal, that is parents appealing their deportation on the grounds that their children would be deeply affected,” Zayas said.

Families facing deportation must choose whether their children should accompany them back to Mexico or stay in the United States. According to the Pew Hispanic Center, the number of U.S. citizen children with undocumented immigrant parents grew from 2.7 million to 4 million from 2003 to 2008. 

Sociology professor Nestor Rodriguez, who has conducted similar research, said the study should be able to shed knowledge on the range of problems and emotional disorders that children suffer when their parents are deported.

“Deportations are at an all-time high with also 400,000 deportations occurring annually for several years now,” Rodriguez said. “I have talked with elementary school teachers who tell me that their students come to school depressed and emotionally unprepared to perform in class when a parent has been apprehended or deported by government agencies.”

The study, funded by a two-year $182,000 grant from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, is expected to be completed by 2014. 

“Because social science, like science, should serve the public good, we undertook this study to inform policy makers, immigration judges, government attorneys and others about the effects on our children,” Zayas said. “The way we implement social and legal policies and the way we administer immigration laws should be informed by research as well as sensitivity to social justice.”