Abstract: Immigration Enforcement Fear and Posttraumatic Stress Disorder in First and Second Generation Latinx Youth (Society for Social Work and Research 25th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Social Change)

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Immigration Enforcement Fear and Posttraumatic Stress Disorder in First and Second Generation Latinx Youth

Friday, January 22, 2021
* noted as presenting author
Arlene Bjugstad, MSW, PhD student, University of Houston, Houston, TX
Caitlyn Mytelka, LMSW, Doctoral Student, University of Houston, Houston, TX
Kalina Brabeck, PhD, Associate Professor, Rhode Island College, Providence, RI
Randy Capps, PhD, Senior Research Analyist, Migration Policy Institute, DC
Tzuan Chen, PhD, Statitician, University of Houston, Houston, TX
Background. The Trump administration has intensified the criminalization of immigration by resetting arrest priorities to include all undocumented immigrants, rescinding the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program, deploying the National Guard to the U.S.-Mexico border, and separating asylum-seeking families. Heightened immigration enforcement, as well as co-occurring risk factors (e.g., broader trauma exposure) may lower resilience and increase the risk of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms. We collected data from 306 first and second generation Latinx high school students to explore the association between immigration enforcement fear and PTSD symptoms. Methods. Participants were recruited from 11 high schools in Harris County, Texas (n = 152) and Rhode Island (n = 154). Survey data was administered in English or Spanish via iPads. Fifty-eight percent of participants were female and over a quarter were aged 17 or older; 53% were immigrant students and 80% were born, or had a parent from, Mexico, Honduras, El Salvador, or Guatemala. PTSD was measured with the Child PTSD Symptoms Scale (CPSS, α = 0.91). Immigration enforcement fear was assessed with eight single-item questions that explored emotional and behavioral responses to immigration enforcement (α = 0.81). Covariates included: age, gender, nativity, trauma exposure (Life Events Checklist, α = 0.82), and resilience (items that assess individual, family and spiritual resilience, α =0.88). Data analysis included: (1) confirmatory factor analysis (CFA) to examine the factor structure of the immigration enforcement fear construct and (2) linear regression to test the association between immigration enforcement fear and PTSD symptoms, controlling for covariates. Results. Thirty percent of participants met the clinical cutoff on the CPSS, indicating a possible PTSD diagnosis. They reported an average lifetime trauma exposure of 7.38 events. Female students reported higher PTSD symptoms (t = -2.20 [DF =282], p = 0.03). The eight immigration enforcement items loaded on a unidimensional measurement model, with factor loadings ranging from 1.00 to 2.06. The CFA showed that the chi-square of model fit was significant (X2 = 43.34 [DF = 19], p = .001), and the root mean square error of approximation (0.076), Tucker Lewis Index (0.97) and the Comparative Fit Index (0.98) indicated acceptable goodness of fit. Controlling for age (B= 0.44 [0.35], p = 0.21), gender (B = 5.51 [1.28], p < 0.001), nativity (B = -1.60 [1.30], p = 0.22), trauma exposure (B = 1.21 [0.16], p <0.001), and resilience (-0.26 [0.07], p <0.001), immigration enforcement fear was significantly associated with higher PTSD symptoms (B = 0.35 [0.14], p = 0.01). Conclusion. Latinx adolescents who identified as female, as well as those with lower resilience, higher trauma exposure and greater immigration enforcement fear had significantly higher PTSD symptoms. Ramped up enforcement as well as the use of unprecedented language that vilifies and dehumanizes Latinx immigrants, (i.e., characterizing them as “rapists,” and “thugs,” who “bring drugs,” and “attack” the U.S.), result in a generalized climate of fear. This climate increases Latinx youths’ hypervigilance, intrusive symptoms, and avoidance. Findings suggest that immigration enforcement should be considered part of trauma assessment in Latinx youth.