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).

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.


[1] http://thehill.com/latino/392790-american-academy-of-pediatrics-president-trumps-family-separation-policy-is-child

[2] http://fortune.com/2018/06/15/doctors-trump-border-separation-policy-causing-mental-health-crisis-families/