UCSC Professor Calls Effects Of Deportation A Public Health Crisis

Aug 9, 2018

Deportations and forced family separations constitute a public health crisis.  That’s according to a policy statement that comes out in the upcoming American Journal of Community Psychology. 

The authors looked at thirty years of research and literature spanning the Clinton, Bush and Obama Administrations and the run up to the Trump Administration.  They found that deportations dramatically increased in that time period and most of those being deported had lived in the country for more than a decade. 

UC Santa Cruz Psychology Professor Regina Langhout is the paper’s lead author.  She says deportations and immigration raids lead to fear and anxiety throughout a community.

Regina Langhout (RL): These ripple effects happen within the community at large, even for people who are not targeted, even if they’re citizens, right?  Because these effects are broader than that.  That’s the way psychology works.  Even if they are citizens start to draw back from public society.  So what that means is that broad swaths of the community then stop participating or reduce their participation in school related events. They stop going to parks.  They stop attending religious institutions.  And what we know from a community psychology standpoint is that when people are pulling back that erodes the entire community  because community health and wellness is very tied to having that strong social fabric.

Krista Almanzan (KA): How does a U.S. citizen end up thinking, I could be next?

RL:  So the thing that the research shows about children especially is that they don't always know the difference in status and so they just see people being targeted and so they can begin to believe that they will be targeted as well.  Ten percent of children who are in the U.S. have a family member that does not have authorization to be in the U.S.  So it is likely that if a child is in school somebody in that school is affected targeted directly. Then what starts to happen is  when you're seeing people targeted in your community who you have some connection to then you can start to feel like that targeting could happen to you as well.

KA: Since you started the research on this. We've had the policy of zero tolerance. What are your thoughts about the effects of that, even though we know that that time period isn't included in this research?

RL: So what's happening now it is a ratcheting up of a trajectory that we have been on since the mid 90s. So in terms of what we can say about a zero tolerance policy, one is that in the research that we examined, which also includes statistics from the U.S. government, we know that about 75 percent of families that present at the border who are seeking asylum, the U.S. government says has a credible case and a credible threat of returning to their home country. Those statistics are really important when we think about what's happening at the border now.  We also know from the research that we've done that the journey to get to the border can also be quite harrowing. And so to separate children from their parents at that point is going to have very severe effects for the families and the children, much like we see in the literature that we've done that again has been focused on forced family separation at the interior not at the border. And still I think we have no reason to believe that the results would be that different.

UC Santa Cruz Professor Regina Langhout is the lead author on the policy statement written by the Society for Community Research and Action, a division of the American Psychology Association.  It can be read online now and will be published in the upcoming American Journal of Community Psychology.