Immigration

Female immigrant

APA advocates for federal policies on immigration that promote keeping families together. We particularly focus on minimizing the negative psychological impact that results from the separation of families.

Immigration Policy & Families

We support practical, humane immigration policies that consider the needs of immigrants, and particularly immigrant families. While APA recognizes the need to balance these policies with national security and public safety, immigrants are disproportionately likely to experience stress and other mental health concerns which can be exacerbated by harmful public policies, particularly those that enforce family separation.

Mass flows of migration do not happen by chance. Three major types are those who search for work; humanitarian refugees (including escaping war, violence and environmental catastrophe); and those seeking family reunification.

The Psychology of Immigration

Deportation can lead to long family separations, with significant psychological consequences.
Immigrants are at increased risk of psychological harm

Immigrants are at increased risk of psychological harm

Psychological research shows that immigrants experience unique stressors related to the conditions that led them to flee their home countries, the often harrowing journey to the United States, and the ongoing stress of starting a new life away from their family and culture. They are often marginalized from mainstream American society which can lead to prejudice, discrimination, and ultimately additional stress.

Stress affects health

Threat of deportation is particularly stressful

Deportation is a significant concern of newly arrived undocumented immigrants. Research demonstrates that immigrants who fear deportation are much more vulnerable to heart disease, asthma, diabetes, depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder, and their children are more likely to experience psychological distress, academic difficulties, and disruptions in their development.
Deportation's impact on kids

Deportation–related family separation is especially harmful

Data suggests that the longer parents and children are separated, the greater the reported symptoms of anxiety and depression are for children. Negative outcomes for children include housing instability, food insecurity, interrupted schooling and adverse behavioral/emotional responses. Sustained parental separation also predicts ongoing difficulty trusting adults and institutions, and reduced educational attainment.

Three women immigrants sitting on a stone walkway

Resources

APA Policy Statements Related to Immigration

APA has long supported research and policy opposing discrimination and racial/ethnic prejudice. We adopted our first policy opposing discrimination based on race and religion in 1950. Since then, we have adopted numerous policies condemning expressing prejudice, employing stereotypes and engaging in discrimination.

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Recent APA Advocacy Related to Immigration

September 2017

APA Statement on President Trump's Decision to End DACA

APA issued a statement expressing its concern in response to the Trump administration's decision to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, and urged Congress to pass legislation reinstating protections formerly afforded to young immigrants by the program.

The statement explained that research affirms forced parent-child separation is a traumatic event that can adversely affect the mental health of children and their families. APA is committed to policies that keep families together. APA is now seeking congressional action and subsequent support from the Trump administration to safeguard the well-being of DACA recipients and protect them from deportation.

August 2017

APA Calls on President to Preserve "Dreamers" Program

In an August 31, 2017, statement, APA urged President Trump to protect the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, noting that ending it would break up families and derail many young immigrants’ chances for a quality education and future.

The statement noted that psychological research shows that violence and displacement have long-lasting negative consequences.

“These young people — many of whom refer to themselves as ‘dreamers’ — have complied with the DACA program's requirements regarding educational attainment and/or military service,” said APA President Antonio Puente, PhD. “We, in turn, need to keep our commitment to provide a safe haven to them.”

April 2017

APA Sends Letter to Secretary of Homeland Security to Express Concerns About Separating Families at the Border

In an April 5, 2017, letter (PDF, 127KB) from APA 2017 President Antonio E. Puente, PhD, APA expressed concern to Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly about his proposal to separate undocumented families at the border. 

In the letter, APA explained that over the last few years, APA has expressed concerns and shared research about the trauma of family separation. The research showing that a policy that would purposely separate parents from children will lead to damaging results for children. 

APA asked Secretary Kelly to consider the following policy recommendations: prioritize family unity as a primary factor in all charging and detention decisions; advocate for best interests of the child; and hire child welfare professionals at the border. Puente also requested a meeting with the secretary to discuss these issues in more detail.

April 2017

APA Asks Secretary Kelly to Consider Dignity and Well-Being of Families in DHS Policy

APA sent an April 5, 2017, letter (PDF, 99KB) to Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary John F. Kelly to express deep concern about a proposal to separate undocumented families as they arrive at the U.S. border. APA asked the secretary to consider the trauma of family separation and offered to work with DHS to ensure the dignity and well-being of immigrant families. 

The letter recommended prioritizing family unity as a primary factor in charging and detention decisions; advocating for the best interests of children; and hiring child welfare professionals at the border.

February 2017

Concerned for Refugees’ Mental Health, APA Issues Statement on Executive Order

APA issued a statement opposing recent executive orders on refugees and immigration, which explained that proposed restrictions on refugees and other visitors from Muslim-majority nations are likely to compound the stress and trauma already experienced by populations at risk for discrimination, limit scientific progress and increase stigma. 

Additionally, the statement explained that a second executive order that would make it easier to deport immigrants could be especially harmful due to potentially serious mental health consequences for immigrant children and/or their parents who are forced to leave the United States. Sudden and unexpected family separation is associated with negative outcomes on child well-being that can last well into adulthood. 

The executive order limiting arrivals to the United States was later put on hold as it is challenged in a number of courts; the administration has since signed another order which would have similar effects. The executive order targeting immigrants in the United States has also been signed.

January 2016

APA Sends Letter of Support for the BRIDGE Act Supporting DACA

APA expressed support to two U.S. senators who introduced an act barring deportation of undocumented immigrants who are enrolled in the Department of Homeland Security’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. In a Jan. 25, 2017, letter (PDF, 202KB) from APA 2017 President Antonio E. Puente, PhD, APA thanked Senators Lindsey Graham. R-S.C., and Richard Durbin, D.-Ill., for introducing the Bar Removal of Individuals Who Dream and Grow our Economy Act (S. 128), more commonly known as the BRIDGE Act. The proposed legislation offers employment authorization and temporary relief from deportation for undocumented immigrants who arrived in the United States as children and are enrolled in the Department of Homeland Security’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. The letter explained the serious mental health problems that can result if young immigrants are forced to leave the country.
July 2016

APA Immigration Working Group Sends Letter to the White House Regarding Continued Deportations

APA joined with other organizations to send a July 8, 2016, letter (PDF, 184KB) to President Obama expressing about the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) continued deportations and recent raids focused on Central American children and their families. The letter noted that deportation has the potential to contribute to serious mental health deterioration and trauma in children, many of whom have already fled traumatic circumstances in their country of origin. Because of this, we urge you to reconsider future raids, especially those that negatively impact children and their families.

April 2016

Organizations Object to Deportation Proceedings Against Children Without Counsel

APA, along with 176 other organizations, sent an April 29, 2016, letter (PDF, 73KB) to the United States Attorney General Loretta Lynch expressing objections to the government’s ongoing practice of pursuing deportation proceedings against children — including those as young as 3 years old — lacking legal counsel. APA agrees that every child facing deportation should be provided an attorney. Children, by definition, lack the competency to represent themselves in court proceedings. Furthermore, most children appearing in immigration court do not speak English and have no understanding of any legal system. Such legal proceedings have the potential to cause mental health problems for children and their families.
March 2016

Capitol Hill Briefing Focuses on Immigration, Prejudice and Discrimination

On March 17, APA organized a congressional briefing on immigration, highlighting the influence of prejudice and discrimination. The briefing aimed to educate members of Congress and their staff on the importance of psychological research to immigration policy and absent legislative momentum, to bring attention to immigration. The presenters focused on scientific research and personal experience to provide informative and powerful testimony:

  • John F. Dovidio, PhD, of Yale University, presented his path-breaking research on the nature of explicit and implicit prejudice and their roles in shaping attitudes toward immigrants.
  • Linda Tropp, PhD, of University of Massachusetts-Amherst, discussed ways to mitigate the impact of prejudice through increasing intergroup contact and emphasized identities of both “native-born” Americans and more recent arrivals.
  • Gabrielle Jackson, MSW, of The Undocumented and Black Convening, gave a presentation on growing up as an undocumented immigrant in the U.S. She discussed how the experience of growing up undocumented shaped her development.
January 2016

APA Voices Concern to White House Regarding Recent Deportations

APA sent a Jan. 27, 2016, letter (PDF, 55KB) to President Barack Obama expressing concern about the Department of Homeland Security’s recent deportation of Central American children and their parents. Deportation has the potential to cause mental health problems for those deported, as well as for those remaining in this country. Immigrants face challenges such as acculturation, prejudice and discrimination, which can lead to trauma symptoms and other mental health problems. APA urged President Obama to carefully consider the potential for adverse impact of these deportations on the mental health of the children and families involved.
October 2015

APA Asks Kerry to Work With Congress to Obtain Emergency Funds for Syrian Refugees

APA sent an Oct. 14, 2015, letter (PDF, 80KB) to Secretary of State John Kerry urging the Obama Administration to work with Congress to release emergency funds to support Syrian refugees entering the United States. Specifically, the letter: 

  • Suggests that funds be used to support refugees’ mental health needs and community integration.
  • Draws on APA reports such as Resilience and Recovery after War: Refugee Children and Families in the United States and Crossroads: The Psychology of Immigration in the New Century.
  • Cites specific psychological research and evidence-based programs that would help refugees begin new lives in the United States. APA also circulated a press release to highlight the needs and suggestions.
June 2015

APA Urges Obama Administration to Reform Detention Policies Impacting Immigrant Children and Families

APA joined with 97 other organizations in sending a June 15, 2015, letter (PDF, 179KB) to the Obama Administration, urging the use of alternatives to presumptive detention policies that would better account for the mental and physical health needs of immigrants and their families. The letter features expert analysis from APA member Luis Zayas, PhD, dean of the School of Social Work at the University of Texas at Austin, who concluded “untold harm is being inflicted on these children by the trauma of detention.”

June 2014

APA Weighs In With Congress On Young People Immigrating Across the Nation’s Southern Border

APA submitted written testimony for a June 25, 2014, hearing before the U.S. House of Representatives Judiciary Committee regarding the recent surge of unaccompanied children and young adults immigrating to the United States. APA’s testimony focused on the immediate need for trauma-informed mental health services for many of the children recently apprehended by United States Customs and Border Protection and described psychological issues related to the immigration experience.

March 2012

APA Task Force Report Calls for Retooling of Mental Health Care Treatment for Immigrants

The methods psychologists and other health-care providers are using to treat immigrants to the United States need to be better tailored to deal with their specific cultures and needs, according a report by APA’s Presidential Task Force on Immigration, "Crossroads: The Psychology of Immigration in the New Century."

The report presents a detailed look at America’s immigrant population and outlines how psychologists can address the needs of immigrants across domains of practice, research, education and policy.

Immigration Facts

Children of immigrants represent one quarter of all children in the U.S.

25 percent of all children in the U.S. are children of immigrants, who comprise the fastest growing segment of U.S. children.
More than 5 million children in the U.S. live in a mixed-status family.

More than 5 million children in the U.S. belong to families with mixed immigration status, and 4.1 million are U.S. citizens.
There are less than 1 million unauthorized children estimated to be living in the U.S.

There are approximately 800,000 unauthorized people under the age of 30 estimated to be living in the U.S., also referred to as "Dreamers."

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Serena Dávila
Senior Legislative Affairs Officer, APA Public Interest Government Relations

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About APA Advocacy

APA represents the largest and most visible national presence advocating for psychology at the federal level. There are three APA government relations offices and two APA-affiliated organizations that engage in government relations activities. 

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