Society for Social Work and Research

Sixteenth Annual Conference Research That Makes A Difference: Advancing Practice and Shaping Public Policy
11-15 January 2012 I Grand Hyatt Washington I Washington, DC

15729 Estamos Traumados: The Impact of Anti-Immigrant Sentiment and Policies On the Mental Health of Mexican Immigrant Families

Friday, January 13, 2012: 10:00 AM
Constitution E (Grand Hyatt Washington)
* noted as presenting author
Lorraine Moya Salas, PhD, Lecturer, Arizona State University, Phoenix, AZ
Cecilia Ayón, PhD, Assistant Professor, Arizona State University, Phoenix, AZ
Maria A. Gurrola, PhD, Assistant Professor, California State University, Los Angeles, Long Beach, CA
Purpose: While immigrants have contributed greatly to the development of the U.S., difficult economic times give rise to immigrants as scapegoats accused of stealing American jobs, driving down wages, and being a drain on resources. Within this context immigrants are labeled as criminals and a host of legislation has emerged to rid communities of these unwanted foreigners (Androff, et al., 2011). This xenophobic climate is particularly pervasive in Arizona where legislation prohibits undocumented immigrants from accessing state social services, an employer sanction law rescinds business licenses if employers hire undocumented immigrants, and undocumented college students are required to pay out-of-state tuition. Additionally, minutemen patrol the Arizona border and police officials complete raids to arrest those who fit the profile of an “illegal” immigrant. This study examines Mexican immigrant families' experience of trauma and how it influences their health and mental health.

Methods: Study participants were recruited from a community center and church in Arizona. Three focus groups were completed in Spanish with adults (n=26), and two with youth (n=17) were facilitated in English and Spanish. Participants were immigrants or children of immigrants with ages ranging from 13 to less than 50. A flexible interview schedule was used. Questions included what laws affect immigrant families, how have these laws changed what they do or how they feel, how have these laws affected their children, and how do they deal with these laws. Data were analyzed using constructivist grounded theory methods: open and focused coding and a constant comparative approach within and between transcripts (Charmaz, 2006). To enhance trustworthiness, multiple coders independently analyzed the data and subsequently arrived at consensus regarding coding schemes and definitions. Discrepancies in analysis were discussed until agreement was reached (Hill, Thompson, & Williams, 1997)

Results: Participants shared the risky conditions that are part of their everyday life and feelings of isolation, powerlessness, frustration, fear, trauma, and stress they experience. Three major themes were present in their narrative: (a) Arriesgando la vida [risking our lives], participants shared reasons for leaving their country of origin and the dangers involved in migrating to the U.S.; (b) Mirando por la ventana [looking out the window], participants live in a constant state of fear, of being arrested and deported which significantly restricts how they live their lives; (c) and Estamos traumados [We are traumatized], participants shared the effects on children and youth, how women's stress is manifested, and men's feelings of powerlessness.

Discussion/Implications: Participants narratives reveal experiencing chronic trauma as a result of the immigration process and anti-immigrant policies and practices in Arizona. Practitioners are challenged to develop treatment strategies that assist immigrant families in negotiating trauma and strategies that prepare parents to support their children/youth in coping with the fear and anxiety that characterizes their lives. Further research is needed on the impact of prolonged trauma particularly on children's development. At a policy level, social workers must advocate for immigration policy that is just. There is a need to revisit what constitutes being a refugee vs. an “illegal” immigrant.

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