Living On The Edge: Are America’s Deportation Laws Traumatizing Immigrants?

Undocumented migrants are facing increased psychological trauma due to harsh new US immigration rules.

On February 21 2017, a man committed suicide in Mexico. The 25-year-old had recently been deported from the United States, and he threw himself off a bridge in Tijuana, Baja California, just kilometres from the U.S. border.

His case demonstrates the fearful, precarious existence of Mexican immigrants today as a result of Donald Trump’s severe deportation policies. The looming threat that millions of undocumented immigrants will be arrested and sent back to Mexico can be expected to give rise to mental health challenges in this vulnerable population.

Simply going through the deportation process, which involves being subjected to judicial proceedings, attending hearings, finding and paying a lawyer, and being detained and transported from one detention centre to another until, finally, being expelled from the country, is itself a stressful experience riddled with uncertainty.

Among refugees from conflicts in the Middle East, for example, studies have confirmed that interception and detention activities negatively affect the mental well-being of those targeted by such policies.

Past stress is an underlying reality for deportees. Research on American Latinos shows that fear of deportation, discrimination, language barriers, and immigration status are major daily stressors. The possibility of forced separation from loved ones is another source of profound anxiety (this apprehension was well documented in a recent episode of the U.S. radio show This American Life).

Then there are the criminal networks to which unauthorised migrants are particularly vulnerable on their way in (or out) of the country.

Add in the desperation and frustration of seeing the goal of a new life in one’s host country disappear and the lack of opportunities in the migrant’s country of origin, and the resulting hopelessness can be fatal – as seen in Tijuana last month. Public officials in border areas have warned that they are prepared for “more cases of this nature”.

Migrants across the globe, whether legal or unauthorised, are…