The Society for Social Work and Research

2014 Annual Conference

January 15-19, 2014 I Grand Hyatt San Antonio I San Antonio, TX

The Impact of Deportation On Children and Adolescents Development

Saturday, January 18, 2014: 11:30 AM
HBG Convention Center, Room 001A River Level (San Antonio, TX)
* noted as presenting author
Pilar Horner, PhD, Assistant Professor, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI
Jorge Delva, PhD, Professor, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Ann Arbor, MI
Ramiro Martinez, WICIR Co-founder, Washtenaw Interfaith Coalition for Immigrant Rights, Ann Arbor, MI
Laura Sanders, LMSW, WICIR Co-founder, Washtenaw Interfaith Coalition for Immigrant Rights, Ann Arbor, MI
Priscilla Cortez, MSW, Evaluator, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Ann Arbor, MI

Recent worldwide population changes reflected through migrations of populations from rural to urban areas and from one country to another have increased the need to better understand their migratory, health, and mental health experiences (Demeny, 2003).  Nowhere is this more critical than the experiences of Hispanic children in the U.S. who due to increased anti-immigration legislation and raids live in fear that they and/or their parents may face detention or deportation.  Children living in fear of being separated from their parents through forced deportation, brutal force, or detention face serious developmental problems. The purpose of this community-based participatory study was to acquire in-depth understanding of the experiences of undocumented Hispanic children and children of undocumented Hispanic parents.


The study is a partnership between University researchers and members of an educational and advocacy grass-root organization, Washtenaw Interfaith Coalition for Immigrant Rights (WICIR). Twenty children/adolescents 11-18 years old and 10 parents participated in the study in 2012-2013.  Of the 20 youth, 17 participated in focus groups of 4-5 individuals lasting 1.5 hours. Focus groups were conducted at a community agency or church basement. Three of the 20 youth completed face-to-face interviews because they did not want to participate in the focus groups but wanted to share their experiences. Youth were asked questions to elicit information about the stressors they face, coping mechanisms, and sources of support, among others.  All youth completed the Youth Self Report (YSR) measuring internalizing (e.g., depression) and externalizing (e.g., rule breaking) behaviors. Ten parents participated in a 1.5-2 hour face-to-face interview that was conducted at their residences.  Data were transcribed into WORD using Express Scribe, and analyzed with NVivo. YSR data were analyzed with STATA. The study was funded by internal University resources and approved by the University’s IRB.


Not surprisingly, parents and youth were found to be living in high-stress environments, and living in post-traumatic stress like conditions.  Youth demonstrated various strategies for dealing with this stress including: isolation, avoidance, political advocacy, and family based coping mechanisms. Age and gender variations were noted and were found to vary across age. Younger children employed simplistic and altruistic definitions of their coping mechanisms, while older children demonstrated complex strategies for dealing with the threat of family deportation. In this presentation we will provide examples of the families’ experiences with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and the ways by which the community partner in this study, WICIR, is helping undocumented families face these challenges while engaging in extensive policy advocacy and education at the local, state, and national levels.

Conclusions and Implications

These findings provide additional evidence that the particularly brutal neighborhood raids and individual arrests, as well as other human rights violations (e.g., arrests without warrants, illegal detentions, emotional threats) by ICE need to stop; a more humane immigration policy is needed. Increased efforts are needed by social workers and allied groups to meet the critical mental health needs of a young population that has been and continues to be traumatized by these experiences.