Separating Families of Illegal Immigrants: A Mental Health Crisis

I, like many of you, have heard about the separation of children from their families at the United States-Mexico border. I’ve seen the images of children of children fenced in and treated cruelly.

Activists have made a big deal about the inhumanity of this policy from an immigration perspective, and rightfully so. However, I want to use this week’s post to discuss the cruelty of this policy from a mental health perspective, because the mental health implications of these actions are not getting the attention they deserve.

Numerous studies and experts have shown that the family turmoil caused by this separation has a negative affect on the mental health of everyone in the family. Here are a few studies and experts worth noting:

  1. A recent study published by the American Journal of Orthopsychiatry noted that, “Separation from a family member was significantly related to all three measures of mental health.” This article believes that the mental health consequences of this separation need to be addressed.
  2. Dr. Colleen Kraft, the President of the American Academy of Pediatrics, said about her tour of one of the immigration detention centers that, “Normally toddlers are rambunctious and running around. We had one child just screaming and crying, and the others were really silent. And this is not normal activity or brain development with these children.” She also expressed about child detention that, “It disrupts their brain architecture and keeps them from developing language and social, emotional bonds, and gross motor skills, and the development that they could possibly have.” As a result, Dr. Kraft describes these actions as “government-sanctioned child abuse.”[1]
  3. The American Psychological Association has cited a “mental health crisis” that has been caused by the current policy on family separation.[2]

But how can the Untied States address the mental health impacts of this policy?

Based on studies that exist on the topic of family separation and mental health, a good start is to end the current policy on this family separation. However, curtailing this policy is just that: a start.

What’s also needed is a comprehensive mental health care plan for families who have been affected by the separation of families and the detainments of children. This is needed because the erasure of this cruel policy will not remove the negative mental health impacts experienced by those who were victimized by said policy. However, comprehensive mental health care for those affected by the policy can hopefully start to address the scars that were created.

Obviously, this idea may be controversial because it proposes the idea of helping illegal immigrant families. However, if the United States were to truly care for the mental health of these separated families, such a measure is sorely needed. Doing otherwise would be unjust.

Note: I wrote this post hours before I published it. I therefore apologize in advance for any mistakes I made here.



18 Replies to “Separating Families of Illegal Immigrants: A Mental Health Crisis”

  1. They are creating this problem. Justice demands they become part of the solution. We need to stand together to vote for people that will make this happen. This situation breaks my heart every time I read the news — and I follow Amnesty International and CREDO for real news. I call and write to my representatives. I try to use my buying power through the Buycott app (which helps prevent our money from going to oppressors). Beyond that, I feel helpless in the face this overpowering evil. Absolute power is so corrosive and everyone pays in the acidic fallout. But we can become stronger. Thank you for your blog and for sharing from your perspective. We must all a part of the solution. “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.” Desmond Tutu

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Niki-This situation breaks my heart too. We must ALL be part of the solution, and part of the solution indeed comes at the ballot box by voting for people who treat these children (and families) with dignity and compassion.

      Also, I love that quote from Archbishop Tutu! He is a wise man indeed.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Thank you for writing this. Everyone is rightfully outraged with the legal and humanitarian angles, but the mental health angle is very important, as well. It saddens me, as the United States is allegedly built on the concept of family and yet, what monsters have we become when this is happening? Grateful you are shedding a light on the topic. These children need their families, not legalities. They could just as easily be with their parents while that is worked out, no need fo the psychological damage of separation. The parents need their children, as well.
    It’s just a damaging situation all around and I wish I knew what more we could do about it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You’re welcome. I too am outraged with the legal and humanitarian angles but thought it was also important to talk about the mental health angle. I agree that the children need their families and the families need their children.

      I’m not sure I agree on the idea that the country is built on the concept of family. The practice of slavery, for example, also separated children from their families. Now this is a different injustice from slavery, but nevertheless this is not the first time our country is separating families.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. I absolutely agree there will be more short and long term mental health issues due to this law (passed by Clinton and now enforced by Trump; and no, I am not a Trump supporter by any stretch of the imagination).

    I appreciate, respect and agree with your opinion, however, my question is…what is the solution?

    1. Many of the people coming here are doing so illegally (they aren’t all seeking asylum).
    2. How do we know they are the actual true children of the adults they are with?
    3. When U.S. citizens go to jail, the children do not go with the parent(s), so this is not technically different, except perhaps that the holding areas are not so humane, instead of children being placed with a relative or in foster care (which also can be cruel).

    I fully believe in treating humans with dignity and care and as a mother, it’s horrific to see the images. The system is very flawed. But, there are also laws. How do we fix the issues before they become or create long term financial, physical and mental health problems.

    I never agreed with building a wall, but perhaps that is the solution; forcing everyone to come here legally just like our grandparents and great grandparents did.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for asking these questions and giving these thoughts! I’ll try to answer them to the best of my ability…

      In terms of solutions to this issue, it must first be acknowledged that there is no one-size-fits-all solution to illegal immigration. People are in their situations as illegal immigrants for different reasons. Many illegal immigrants are illegal because they overstayed their visas. Some are escaping violent conflict such as drug wars in Central America. A few, I’m sure, are looking to create conflict.

      For those who are escaping from violent conflict, there must be a pathway to asylum status, and then eventually a pathway to being a legal immigrant and eventually a citizen, if they so choose. Seeking a refuge thousands of miles away from a violent conflict shouldn’t be considered a crime. Choosing to instead send people back to countries with violent conflict is inhumane. Building a wall is only going to result in desperate families attempting to find other ways to come into the United States.

      I can go into my ideas for the other categories I mentioned, if you so like.

      Ultimately, while we are a country of laws, we must not become a country of unjust laws. By continuing our current course of action on immigration, I fear that we are being a country of unjust laws.

      Let me know if there’s more that you like me to address.

      Once again, thanks for commenting!


      1. Thank you for responding. I agree, there is no one size fits all solution. I also agree that there are those truly seeking asylum and there should be a pathway for those individuals that is efficient. Additionally, laws should be fair and just. Sadly, they are not always and not just in this scenario (I can given plenty of examples with PFAs and other laws dealing with domestic violence.

        I don’t think sending people back to horrific situations is the humane answer, but I don’t know how to solve it. Of course, when there is any wall built, people will find a way around it. It shouldn’t be a crime, but I also don’t think anyone should be able to just be able to walk into another country and not be subject to rules, laws and appropriate process. Everyone can claim asylum and that may not be the truth.

        The entire immigration issue has so many flaws, I don’t know where to begin. The government as a whole has many flaws, I often fear we are beyond repair. Simply look at the benefits and immigrant can receive while our own citizens who have worked all of their lives and contributed to Social Security can often barely scrape by due to the mismanagement of funds and programs.

        Our government contributes to the mental health crisis, people entering this country illegally contribute, opioid epidemic contributes, chemicals, foods and other medication contributes, and the sorely lacking treatment facilities don’t help either. I don’t have great answers per se, but some ideas. I just hope it’s not too late as we clearly, as a nation, the world and as an entire human race, have our priorities quite out of line.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. You’re welcome!

        Indeed, in this case many of the laws are not fair and just. I do stand corrected though…we have already been a country of unjust laws, on multiple occasions, in the past and present too. This is the latest example.

        I agree that people should be subject to certain rules and laws. We just need to make sure that the rules are just. There are certain standards I’m sure for when someone is really needing/seeking asylum, but I’m not 100% sure what those standards are.

        The immigration issue indeed has flaws. I think that the biggest flaw I see is different from the one you see–I think that we often view immigrants as an inferior “other” instead of viewing them as humans just like us. Of course, that might not be the most popular stance. Clearly, I’m not planning to run for office.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Thank you for the great, respectful dialogue. Proves we don’t have to 100% agree, but can have meaningful conversations. The world needs more of this too!

        Liked by 2 people

  4. There is an expression, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

    And that definitely applies in this case. Instead of thinking of treating Latino children for the damages caused by detention at the US border, why not fix the visa so that they will not be detained in the first place?

    Is it reasonable to think that an area, Central America, in which there are no wars, no famines, and no systemic humanitarian emergency. Yet there are 300,000 applications for asylum emanating from there. That is completely unreasonable, and suggests that nearly all of those asylum applications should, and will, be rejected.

    People apply for asylum because the US authorities provide too few visa options. The US authorities work under the presumption that everyone coming here seeks a path to citizenship. This is probably not true. Most people probably come to experience “Los Estados,” others come to work, some come to visit friends and family, and have motives combining all three.

    Why do make travel here so difficult for Central American people? They pay coyotes to move them across the border. Wouldn’t it be more sensible to put those monies into a bond redeemable at the US consulate in their hometown in Central America. They could come here, travel, work, study, visit, whatever, go home and get their money back, minus any debts or damages they had lodged against in the US.

    There are no hostile countries, epidemics or subversive movements which present threats to US security emanating from Central America. We can process everyone for a visa which allows a three to five year period of travel in and out of the USA and sojourns here in the consuls we maintain in Central American cities. Why not let the citizens of our sister American Republics travel here with few restrictions and not detain ANYONE on our borders?


    1. I agree that this is a mental health crisis (like you). It is traumatizing to separate children from their parents at such a young age.

      I would disagree with you with the comment above (regarding the assessment of the situation in different countries in Central America). There is a humanitarian emergency in that part of the world. Several of the countries in that part of the world have some of the highest murder rates on the planet: Many of them are escaping violence. Apparently if you’re escaping generalized violence it’s hard to be granted asylum ( but given the murder rates in several Central American countries, maybe that should change.


  5. As for the mental health aspect, Brendan, you quote a pediatrician who rightly observed the traumatizing effects of the separation from their parents on toddlers and pre-schoolers.

    These are irreparable damages.

    The family separation policy must stop.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Thank you for writing this. Many ppl just brush this issue off because its not them however, where is the humanity. These are children. That is a traumatizing event they are facing and it’s not like they are placing these kids in comfort areas but they are basically in a prison camp and given foil blankets. This event is just a disgrace to mankind period. Although Trump agreed to this, it’s the congressmen who also agreed to this. Smh

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Smh indeed. These are anything but comfort areas. People of my generation asked: “So…how would I be if I lived during the ________ [Civil Rights Movement, Holocaust, some other grave time of injustice]?” I guess we’re finding out.


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