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).

Slavery Exists Here

When you read the title, your emotions may’ve been something along the lines of, “Wait…slavery was abolished long ago!” And that goes not just for the United States, but for other nations as well.

And yet, I’m writing a blog post to make all of us aware that slavery exists here. It exists in the United States of America.

It does not exist because it’s legal. It exists in spite of the fact that it’s illegal.

One of many scary things about modern-day slavery, at least where I come from (New York City), is that so much of it exists in a shadow, with few people realizing that it even happens. For example, when I walked on large swaths of Roosevelt Avenue in Queens, New York with a friend a few months ago, I saw no signs that it is considered by many to be the epicenter of sex trafficking in New York City. Maybe there were signs I missed—especially embarrassing for me because the first social justice cause I worked to educate people about was human trafficking, back when I was a high school student volunteer for an anti-human trafficking campaign. But regardless of that fact, if even I couldn’t spot some of the signs of the sex trafficking along an infamous corridor for sex trafficking, then many others probably wouldn’t spot the signs, either.

Ultimately, modern-day slavery, in the United States and in many other parts of the world, is a textbook definition of a blind injustice. It is an injustice that we tend to be blind to.

How can we remove that blindness?

The first thing I’d recommend is to do a simple Google (or Bing, or Yahoo) search of human trafficking, sex trafficking, or other form of slavery in your area (whether it be a city, county, township, or state). You might find stories on slavery in your area, and you might even run into stories where you ask yourself why you passed by an area but never realized that slavery went on there.

I would also recommend looking at resources provided by entities like the Polaris Project and the United States Department of Homeland Security. While these resources might not be able to help people catch all of the signs of slavery, sites like these do give some very important signs (and signs that have been used by people before to recognize that someone is being victimized).

Finally, if you suspect that someone you know is being victimized by slavery in the United States, please call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888, or text HELP or INFO to BeFree (233733). If you don’t live in the United States but notice a potential case of slavery, please consult CNN’s Freedom Project to find the appropriate hotline in your home country.

Nobody may be able to singlehandedly deal with, let alone end, modern-day slavery. But all of us can and should take the step of making ourselves aware that such a thing exists, that there are ways of recognizing when this is happening, and that there are ways of dealing with these types of situations.

Author’s Note: If any of the national numbers are either not included on CNN’s list or are different from CNN’s list, please let me know about the appropriate number in the comments section below. This is the most recent list I can find, but numbers do change.