Deportation experiences and depression among U.S. citizen-children with undocumented Mexican parents

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Abstract

Background

There is a critical need to document the mental health effects of immigration policies and practices on children vulnerable to parental deportation. Few studies capture the differential experiences produced by U.S. citizen-children's encounters with immigration enforcement, much less in ways that analyse mental health outcomes alongside the psychosocial contexts within which those outcomes arise.

Methods

We explore the psychosocial dimensions of depression in U.S. citizen-children with undocumented Mexican parents to examine differences between citizen-children affected and not affected by parental deportation. An exploratory mixed-method design was used to integrate a quantitative measure of depression symptoms (CDI-2) within qualitative data collected with 48 citizen-children aged 8 to 15 with and without experiences of parental deportation.

Results

Stressors elicited by citizen-children in the qualitative interview included an inability to communicate with friends, negative perceptions of Mexico, financial struggles, loss of supportive school networks, stressed relation with parent(s) and violence. Fifty percent of citizen-children with probable depression – regardless of experiences with parental deportation – cited ‘stressed relation with parents,’ compared to 9% without depression. In contrast, themes of ‘loss of supportive school network’ and ‘violence’ were mentioned almost exclusively by citizen-children with probable depression and affected by parental deportation.

Conclusions

While citizen-children who suffer parental deportation experience the most severe consequences associated with immigration enforcement, our findings also suggest that the burden of mental health issues extends to those children concomitantly affected by immigration enforcement policies that target their undocumented parents.

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