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Edited by Fabricio Balcazar and Kevin Ferreira
The “Immigration Crisis”: Lending a Helping Hand
Written by Cassandra A. Bailey and Amanda C. Venta, Sam Houston State University
Most recent estimates from the Department of Homeland Security suggest an increase in unauthorized immigrants residing in the U.S. from 11.6 million to 12.1 million (Baker, 2017). Yet, data indicates that the rate of unauthorized immigration is slowing down in comparison to prior years (Zong, Batalova, & Hallock, 2018). Indeed, Customs and Border Patrol (2017) reported the lowest number of border crossings and apprehensions in recorded history in the most recent fiscal year, which is 23.7% lower than that of the prior year. Still, government officials, media, and laypeople alike continue to refer to an “immigration crisis” that requires increased protection for our borders (Greene & Bowman, 2018).
Nonetheless, the “immigration crisis” lies not at our nation’s borders, but within our communities, and concerns the disparities that undocumented individuals face. It affects not only those individuals undocumented living among us, but their family members, our citizens, and our nation’s future. Indeed, researchers found that most undocumented individuals are either employed or enrolled in some level of education (Passel & Cohn, 2016; Perez, 2014), suggesting that undocumented persons are heavily integrated into the lives of those with documentation. Additionally, undocumented people live, work (i.e., both manual labor and white collar jobs), and contribute to society like those of us with legal status, but they do so with an added level of stress, trauma, or uncertainty stemming largely from discrimination, fear of deportation, and push factors (i.e., influences that motivate immigration; Capps Fix, & Zong, 2017; Garcini et al., 2017; Moon, 2017; “Root Factors That Cause Migration,” 2017). This stress puts undocumented persons at a higher risk for mental health problems than the general public, with recent estimates showing higher levels of depressive disorders, anxiety disorders, and posttraumatic stress disorders (Garcini et al., 2017; Kirmayer et al., 2011).
To exacerbate issues, undocumented persons must overcome specific barriers to mental healthcare including access to insurance or financial resources in general, access to culturally competent providers, access to bilingual mental health professionals/translation services, and knowledge navigating the mental health care system (Hacker, Anies, Folb, & Zallman, 2015; Siskin & Lunder, 2016). Further, research shows there is an increased level of stigma associated with mental health care service utilization among undocumented immigrants, greater than the stigma held by the general population (Derr, 2016). With the American Psychological Association (APA) having made immigration reform a top priority of advocacy for 2018 (DeAngelis, 2018b), the Society for Community Research and Action (SCRA) Immigrant Justice interest group suggest several ways community psychologists can augment justice for immigrants, reduce the “immigration crisis,” and get involved, based in the “8 ways to advocate for psychology” recently published in APA’s Monitor in Psychology (DeAngelis, 2018a).
1. “Take it to your lawmakers”
There are numerous nationwide and local immigrant advocate groups that write amicus briefs, are involved in local and national legislation, write letters, and publish articles in response to policy changes and proposed legislation. Indeed, the APA has an Immigration Working Group consisting of a wide variety of advocates, including licensed psychologists, graduate students, policy analysts, lawyers, professors, and researchers. More information and advocacy efforts related to immigration can be found at https://www.apa.org/advocacy/immigration/index.aspx. Additionally, the SCRA Immigrant Justice interest group is a nationwide (and international) advocacy group whose mission includes, but is not limited to, supporting and advocating for the rights of immigrants to promote dignity, respect, and beneficence in line with the general principles set forth in the APA (2002) Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct (i.e., heretofore referred to as the APA Ethics Code). Their website can be found at http://www.scra27.org/who-we-are/interest-groups/immigrant-justice/ and includes ways to become involved such as joining the listserv and participating in monthly calls. For more local involvement, a list of state, provincial, and territorial psychological associations can be found at http://www.apa.org/about/apa/organizations/associations.aspx.
2. “Volunteer for a cause”
As aforementioned, access to resources and finances may limit many undocumented immigrants from being able to participate in mental health care. Offering services pro bono or at a reduced cost not only may increase accessibility to mental health care, but is in line with Principle B, Fidelity and Responsibility, and Principle D, Justice, of the APA Ethics Code. For example, following changes in Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA; a form of temporary relief for undocumented individuals brought to the U.S. as children) policy, a Texas University’s mental health center, compiled resources to help those affected by the change in collaboration with the Diversity Division of the Texas Psychological Association. They began a “Dreamers & Allies Support Group” and increased visibility of free mental health care services provided on campus (for more information, visit http://www.shsu.edu/dept/counseling/daca). Other ways to become involved include pairing with already established local advocacy groups, increasing visibility for the cause by participating in awareness programs (e.g., marches, philanthropies, fundraisers), or starting a support group of your own. Indeed, pro bono legal service providers exist throughout the country, and can be a starting point for becoming involved with undocumented populations. A list of providers can be found at https://www.justice.gov/eoir/list-pro-bono-legal-service-providers.
3. “Run for office”
Whether at the national, state, city, county, or small organization level, running for office can help engage others in immigration advocacy, set advocacy as a priority, increase visibility, and foster relationships among those who would like to get involved, but desire direction.
Research on mental health specific to undocumented immigrants is sparse yet growing. It can be difficult to find funding for research on undocumented immigrant populations, given that the current sociopolitical climate regarding immigration is polarized. Even with funding, it can be difficult to find access to large undocumented populations due to government policies limiting research with those in custody, as well as individuals who are hesitant to participate in research due to fear of deportation (Gusmano, 2012). As such, those with access to funding and willing immigrant populations should consider becoming involved in research to promote understanding and competence when working with undocumented individuals. In addition to publishing research findings, publishing op-eds can supplement peer reviewed research findings, to reach a wider audience of people.
5. “Raise your voice on social media”
Activist movements have been started and maintained through social media, which can be a quick and easy way to reach a large audience (Kosinski, Matz Popov, Stillwell, & Gosling, 2015). However, with limited privacy in today’s ever-growing online platform, community psychologists should be cognizant of their online presence, and the implications it can have for their practice, clients, and public image (Drummond, Cromarty & Battersby, 2015). Nonetheless, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, and the like can all help spread advocacy for a population often left without a voice.
6. “Support advocacy by your students”
Sometimes all a student needs to get involved is the motivation and support of a mentor. Establishing labs, interest groups, or clinical work related to immigration advocacy can help mobilize students who question the impact they can make alone. Indeed, supportive faculty can help create a common location to gather, promote organization, and offer continued encouragement when some may lose inspiration. For example, the National Latino/a Psychology Organization (NLPA; http://www.nlpa.ws/) welcomes student groups with the objective of advancing applied research in Latino/a populations.
7. “Serve as an APA fellow”
The APA currently offers 37 fellowships, including four that are specific to practitioners. Some fellowships that may be relevant to improving the “immigrant crisis” include the Foundation for Child Development: Young Scholars Program, Abe Fellowship Program, APAGS/Psi Chi Junior Scientist Fellowship, Minority Fellowship Program in Educational Research, APA Executive Branch Science Fellowship Program, and the APA Congressional Fellowship Program. A full list of APA fellowships can be found at
8. “Become a citizen psychologist”
A citizen psychologist is someone who helps the community outside of their place of employment or position as a psychologist (DeAngelis, 2018a). The possibilities of serving as a citizen psychologist are endless, including serving food at a shelter, donating time to helping rebuild communities, and volunteering at a battered women’s shelter. Improving other areas of concern for undocumented immigrant populations, many of whom live in poverty (Passel & Cohn, 2009), may reduce obstacles to treatment, in turn ameliorating health disparities (Goodman, Pugach, Skolnik, & Smith, 2013).
Bonus: “Increase your knowledge base”
To increase knowledge and wherewithal of the proceedings through which many individuals will go, we recommend attending a basic immigration court training or watching webinars on the topic. A list of trainings can be found at https://www.immigrationadvocates.org/nonprofit/calendar/topics.2018-4-01.
Undocumented immigrants are more integrated into society than most individuals realize, especially in states such as Texas, California, Florida, New York, and New Jersey who have the largest population of immigrants (Zong et al., 2018). Indeed, although by no means a thorough review, becoming involved with and advocating for this population has the potential to improve the lives of not only undocumented immigrants, but those with whom they interact.
Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Cassandra Bailey, MA, Department of Psychology and Philosophy, Sam Houston State University, Huntsville, TX 77341. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
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