President Trump’s Executive Order on Immigration: Still a Mental Health Crisis

Last week, I wrote a blog post on how separating families of illegal immigrants was creating a mental health crisis.

The day after I wrote that post, President Trump signed an executive order saying that families of illegal immigrants who are detained can stay together. Some praised the move because it would keep families together while others criticized Trump for still having a zero-tolerance approach on immigration.

However, both sides of this argument need to seriously examine the catastrophic mental health consequences that will continue for families affected by this policy, as well as continuing mental health consequences for families who were already separated.

I will start by saying that this executive order does not eliminate mental health complications for the families who were already separated. Even for families who will be able to reunite with their children,[1] the mental health implications of temporary separation will not go away; if anything, numerous mental health experts cite other complications that may come about during family reunifications such as the trauma that comes from kids thinking that their parents abandoned them. For families who remain separated (and even the Department of Homeland Security concedes that many families remain separated), the mental health implications will certainly not go away and may actually get worse. Mental health advocates should be disappointed because this executive order fails to address the mental health of families who were/are separated..

Furthermore, detaining entire families—something that will seemingly be a result of the executive order (because what “keeping families together” seems to mean is that entire families may now be detained)—also comes with serious mental health consequences. Steve Lee, the President of the Society of Clinical Childhood and Adolescent Psychology, said about the policy of detaining entire families that, “It really does influence the child’s response to the environment going forward, even if it’s not as acute as with forced separation.” Alphonso Mercado, an assistant professor at the University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley who publishes research on Latino mental health, found that there is a “clear connection between the status of parents and their children” with regards to detained families.[2] While most of the attention on immigration policy and mental health has focused on the separation of families, detaining entire families has negative consequences on mental health as well.

So, to answer the question on how the executive order will have an impact on the mental health of illegal immigrant children and their families, it’s difficult to find any positives. The families who remain separated post-executive order will continue to experience mental health issues. The families who are lucky enough to reunite will face their own mental health concerns. Finally, families who get detained together instead of separated will also be at a risk for mental health problems. President Trump’s executive order to “fix” the crisis of separating illegal immigrant families is not a fix from a mental health perspective.

Note: I wrote this piece within hours of publishing this post. I therefore apologize for any mistakes that may exist here.


[1] As far as I can tell, the executive order does not call for when, if, or how families would be reunified. If I’m wrong, please let me know in the comments section.

[2] My two quotes come from this piece in Time Magazine.

Detained Children image
Above is an image of detained children at a detention facility known as “Ursula” in McAllen< Texas. Wikimedia Commons Contributors, “File:Ursula (detention center) 2.jpg. Wikimedia Commons: The Free Media Repository, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Ursula_(detention_center)_2.jpg&oldid=307239262 (accessed June 25, 2018).

3 Replies to “President Trump’s Executive Order on Immigration: Still a Mental Health Crisis”

  1. I agree with everything you detail. The mental health consequences for children are devastating. And I can’t imagine the anguish of the parents. A court decision today gave Trump 14 days to reunite children under 5 with their parents and 30 days for older children. I think this is still horrendous, but it’s better than nothing. Thank you for the well thought out and informative post.

    Liked by 1 person

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