Friday, September 18, 2020
Uncategorized Undocumented youth under immense stress, study finds

Undocumented youth under immense stress, study finds


Fear of law enforcement creates mental-health issues, UCLA researchers report

Alberto Velazquez remembers being "irrational and paranoid"
Alberto Velazquez remembers being “irrational and paranoid”

By Viji Sundaram

APRIL 27, 2015 — Fear followed Alberto Velazquez every time he left the apartment he shared with his mother and siblings in Pomona, Calif.

If he saw a cop walking on the sidewalk, he said, his first instinct was to turn around and walk the other way.

“I was becoming irrational and paranoid,” said Velazquez, who is now 24 and enjoying the security of being a DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) beneficiary. “I kept thinking if something goes wrong, the cops would be at my door.”

Velazquez’s mental state is typical of undocumented immigrant youth, according to a study released April 21 on the mental health of undocumented and uninsured youth called “Pol(ICE) in My Head,” a project of UCLA’s Dream Resource Center (DRC). Researchers, many of them undocumented youth themselves, interviewed 550 people across California over a period of 10 weeks to find out how much access to health care they had, especially to mental health services.

“The mental health needs of undocumented [people] are rarely addressed,” observed Josue Chavarin, a program associate with The California Endowment, which funded the research.

Research coordinator Alma Leyva of the DRC said that the large number of immigrants deported since Obama became president, combined with “excessive surveillance” by law enforcement officials and barriers undocumented youth face in areas such as health care, education and social services, are factors contributing to the high level of stress many of them experience.

“Fear of being deported prevents them from leaving their homes,” Levya said at the April 21 webinar when the findings were released. “They are self monitoring and on high alert all the time.”

Half of those surveyed said that when they fall sick, they delay seeking treatment. Levya pointed out that her team found that the primary reason undocumented immigrants were reluctant to seek health care is “because that might require them to reveal their undocumented status.”

For Asian and Pacific Islander (API) immigrants, being undocumented and not being able to live up to the “model minority” status APIs largely enjoy, pushes some over the edge, according to researcher Trina Lei Pasumbal, a member of the non-profit group ASPIRE (Asian Students Promoting Immigrant Rights through Education). According to the American Psychological Association, using the year 2007 as case study, suicide was the second leading cause of death for Asian-Americans aged 15 to 34.

The stigma of mental illness forces many to keep their problems under wraps, Pasumbal lamented.

Even for those who want to seek help, language barriers can stand in their way. This is especially true among older immigrants, who are reluctant to ask for help from health care providers simply because they have no vocabulary to describe how they feel. Pasumbal said there’s no direct translation for the word “depression” in the Cambodian Khmer language. Instead, people may say something like “the water in my heart has fallen.”

Researchers included participants in the DRC’s Circle Project, a three-year-old support group where undocumented youth can meet to share their concerns and fears. There are currently 30 youth who attend the biweekly meetings. Velazquez is one of them.

“It’s like group therapy,” he said.

While in high school, Velazquez said he got stressed wondering if he would be ever able to go to college. Doing part time jobs that “paid me under the table,” and with some help from his brother and mother, who manages an apartment complex, he was able to put himself through Cal Poly in Pomona, graduating with a bachelor’s degree in biology. He is now headed to Texas to work for Teach America.

“Going to [Circle Project] meetings has greatly relieved my stress,” he said.

Recently, the Tri City Wellness Center has begun providing basic mental health services to Circle Project members, Velazquez said.

But because mental health issues are so prevalent among undocumented youth, he believes they should have access to comprehensive health care.

“I think Lara’s bill would be a good solution,” said Velazquez, referring to the legislation sponsored by Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, called the Health for All bill. The bill, which is currently making its way through the state legislature, would provide access to health care for all Californians, regardless of their immigration status.
This story comes from New America Media.

Tim Redmond
Tim Redmond has been a political and investigative reporter in San Francisco for more than 30 years. He spent much of that time as executive editor of the Bay Guardian. He is the founder of 48hills.


  1. My point: Why isn’t Congress fining hotel and restaurant chains for (indirectly) hiring illegal workers?

    My conjecture: Because Americans like the inexpensive services provided, and the chains like the profits. If we shut the borders, your fruit would not be unpicked and your restaurants and motels would not be properly staffed. American citizens would do that work, but only for a living wage. You would have to pay a lot more for services.

    But you want your (inexpensive) cake, and you want to eat it, too.

  2. Does Phil feel stressed every time he eats a strawberry? Knowing that an illegal Guatemalan probably picked that berry?

    Does he wash his hands to get the dirt of the unwashed masses off his vest?

    • I cannot speak for Phil but we all benefit from more competitive workers.

      Whether that implies that we should condone illegal behavior is another matter

  3. All this discussion about “stress” begs a question:

    Do all the motel chains and restaurants that hire labor brokers to hire illegal immigrants to make your beds and wash your dishes in restaurants stress about their illegal activities?

    Do you feel stress every time you go into a restaurant knowing that an illegal worker will be washing your dishes?

    • Given that you will not get arrested, stuck in prison, and then deported for sleeping in a bed made by an illegal, I am going with “no” on that

  4. Many people have had to deal with relatives who did the emotional blackmail thing, this article is just on a grander scheme. If you don’t agree with progressives on this issue they will just put everything in emotional issues until you give in.

    Still waiting for the progressive scorecard as to what are laws we should obey and those we should not. What parts of the constitution we should obey and what not.

  5. Just yesterday, I saw an immigrant pissing on my neighbor’s front door. Right across the street from the panhandle park no less. He didn’t seem very stressed out to me.

    • How do you know he was an immigrant? Did he have a sign on his chest saying “I am an immigrant” as he pissed on your neighbor’s door?

      Native Americans (meaning American Indians) and the descendants of black slaves and of white & yeller immigrants get drunk and piss on front doors, too. But you knew that already, didn’t you?

      • I know because I interacted with him. I won’t waste time typing out the whole exchange.

        As for other immigrants, I don’t feel sorry for them either.

      • In your “interaction” did you ask if he was a legal immigrant or an illegal immigrant? Do you differentiate between the two?

        Should drunken real-amurkan louts who piss on your lown be deported, too?

      • Deport them where? They’re Americans. You make no sense. He was an illegal, too lazy and stupid to cross the street and piss on the grass, and you want me to feel bad for him? I think not.

      • It is difficult to feel sympathy for any illegal feeling “stress” about his criminal behavior when he could simply solve his dilemma by going home to the place where he would not be illegal.

  6. I would imagine that most people who engage in illegal behavior suffer stress because of both the fear of getting caught and guilt over the behavior itself. Indeed, Dostoyevski wrote a long and famous novel (“Crime and Punishment”) on that very topic.

    It’s called a conscience. And unless you are Richard the Third (“conscience is but a word that cowards use”, or maybe Hitler or Stalin, then we all experience that to some degree. It is a powerful motivator to.behave ethically.

    Should public money be used to try and ease the stress of wrongdoing? I would say not. Better to address the root problem than assuage its consequences.

    • “youth” implies anyone who has not reached adult status, ie 18 years of age obviously someone who was brought here by his or her parents. Do you really think comparing some child brought to the US to Hitler or Stalin is a valid comparison? What is the point at which you stop punishing kids for their parents bad behavior?

      • Agreed, people who whine about poverty in the US need to understand that almost everyone here is affluent compared to entire continents elsewhere.

        A full one third of Americans are classified as the top one percent, globally. Almost two thirds of SF residents are one percenters.

      • But Philly is less unequal than SF and, according to your brother, it is inequality that is the problem, and not poverty.

      • Progressives should print out a score card so we can have a coherent set of what laws we should obey and what laws we should ignore. This ad hoc style of knowing it when you see it is hard to follow.

      • Showing respect for the law is good behavior, certainly. Still, few who drive faster than the speed limit suffer stress because of guilt. Exceeding speed limits puts people at risk of violent injury and death, and yet it is common.

        What makes immigration ‘bad behavior’?

      • The act of immigration does not, ipso facto, constitute bad behavior. But the word “bad” isn’t helpful here because it is subjective. The issue here is not about good or bad, but about legal versus illegal.

        And if you enter thus country illegally you are guilty of a crime. If you were a minor when you came here but choose to remain here after the age of adulthood you are guilty of a crime.

        Crime leads to stress, guilt and shame.

      • Interesting. Is there a lot of evidence in the literature for stress, guilt and shame among those who exceed the speed limit?

      • False equivalence. Speeding is not considered a felony or even a misdemeanor. You do not get a criminal record if you get caught speeding. It’s just a fixed notice.

        Being in a country with no right to be there is a serious crime. The one person i know who got caught doing that spent 18 months in prison and was then deported.

      • Being illegally present in the U.S. has always been a civil, not criminal, violation of the [Immigration and Nationality Act], and subsequent deportation and associated administrative processes are civil proceedings.

        Congressional Research Service [PDF]

        Perhaps the lack of evidence for stress, guilt and shame among those who exceed the speed limit reflects the measured enforcement of same, not the civil character of the violation.

      • Immigrations courts are serious places, and violations of immigration law are serious offences, hence prison time rather than citations. Punishments are commensurate with criminal offences and not civil disputes.

        The stress involved with a serious crime like illegally being in a country is far far higher than that typically associated with quality-of-life violations like littering, jaywalking or speeding.

        The article did not focus on the stress of riding a bike through a stop sign, for obvious and evident reasons.

      • You tell me. You’re the one claiming this is “just a civil matter”.

        Evidently you disagree with the author since you think these offenses are trivial matters. And of course if they are trivial then illegals should feel no stress and so it would be wrong to help them

        So we actually agree on that approach, albeit for different reasons

      • The Congressional Research Service knows the law, please follow the link above for their comprehensive paper. Where is the evidence that civil immigration proceedings lead to prison?

      • I suggest you outline your theory that immigration violations cannot lead to prison time to the inmates of any number of federal institutions in Arizona that have been built for that express purpose

      • There are criminal immigration violations, for marriage fraud, entrepreneurship fraud or alien smuggling. The discussion here has been about mere undocumented status.

      • wcw, when an illegal is detained, he is, well, detained i.e. held against his will in a federal facility ending an appearance in immigration court. They can be detained for months

        Moreover, since they are not citizens, they do not get a public defender and have to hire a private lawyer, which many do not. As a result they often cannot make bail.

        And you call that trivial? A mere civil citation?

      • The large majority of detained aliens have committed a crime while in the United States, have served their criminal sentence, and are detained while undergoing removal proceedings.

        CRS report, link above.

      • The question was, is there evidence for stress, guilt and shame among those who exceed the speed limit.

        Being in a country with no right to be there is a serious crime. not an answer, because it is false.

        A better answer is enforcement. It is harder archly to name-check Dostoevsky in explaining that honestly, though.

      • I agree that there should be more enforcement of illegal entry and residence in this country.

        If you don’t think being thrown in prison and/or being deported is indicative of a serious matter, then nobody can probably convince you otherwise.

        There is more stress associated with a transgression that carries such punishment than one that merely leads to a citation or fine.

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