The mental health of undocumented immigrants is a family issue. Approximately 5.5 million children in this country have at least one parent who is undocumented. About 1 million of these children are also undocumented, while about 4.5 million are US-born citizens. Approximately 9.5 million people live in “mixed status” families that include American citizen children and undocumented immigrant parents. Undocumented children and US-born children of undocumented parents are at risk for long-term detrimental effects to their social development, sense of belonging, educational achievement, economic well-being, and mobility. Fear and vigilance are key issues in the home lives of undocumented immigrant families.
Parents are significantly less likely to engage with teachers or be active in school or to access health services. Parents’ fears of deportation lead to lower levels of enrollment of their US-born children in public programs for which the children are legally eligible. These include childcare subsidies, public preschool, and food stamps. Many undocumented immigrant children and youths are subject to racial profiling and ongoing discrimination. They are exposed to gangs, immigration raids in their communities, arbitrary stopping of family members to check their documentation status, being forcibly taken or separated from their families, returning home to find their families have been taken away, placement in detention camps or in the child welfare system, and deportation.
These experiences lead to anxiety, fear, depression, anger, social isolation, and lack of a sense of belonging. The impact of having parents who have been detained or deported can result in severe mental health problems, such as PTSD, chronic depression and anxiety, acting out behaviors, and difficulties in school. Many immigrant parents work long hours in low-wage jobs and often work more than one job. Even when children who are undocumented succeed and complete college or advanced degrees, they are likely to continue working low-wage jobs like their parents because of barriers inherent in their legal status. This leads to further frustration and hopelessness as these young people work to escape this perpetual “outsiderness.” Legislation such as the development, relief, and education for alien minors (DREAM Act) has been proposed to help support undocumented youths who came to the US before age 16, which allows them to study and/or serve in the military as a path to citizenship.
Isabel Oliveras, our Hispanic Ministries staff person, provides education and support to undocumented families. The support is provided via advocacy, case management and referrals.
Catholic family Services (CFS) provides Hispanic parent education courses, Hispanic parent/child communication skills, how to set rules and guidance for Hispanic children. We educate Hispanics parents about their children’s rights in the United States. CFS helps Hispanic families find solutions to family problems via problem identification. CFS can also help Hispanics access resources within the community that can better assist with their family’s needs. If our Hispanic Ministries staff person assesses that clinical services are necessary, then Hispanic client is referred to our in house licensed clinical staff for a clinical assessment. CFS clinical staff are licensed socials workers, counselors, marriage and family therapists and/or psychiatrist. Catholic Family Services provides a wide range of services including but not limited to marriage, family and individual counseling, parent education, referrals and advocacy. Access to this service is easy. Just call the office nearest you. Share contact information, and a worker at receptionist will set your appointment. The most important and sometimes the most difficult part, is getting started. The staff of CFS is here to help you and your family.
Catholic Family Services specializes in working with the broad scope of situations in which individual may be currently dealing with. Contact us via phone or website so that we may connect you with the therapist most suited to your needs. Identify whether you have a preference to work with a male therapist or a female therapist. After the initial phone call your therapist will direct you to which forms to fill out and bring with you to your first appointment.
If you would like to make an appointment with one of our counselors, or if you have any questions, please call our Birmingham Office at 205-324-6561 or call our Huntsville office at 256-536-0073or call our Florence Office at 256-768-1550 if you would like to email us for more information please do so at infoCFS@bhmdiocese.org .