Feature

The growing number of workplace immigration raids is taking a toll on families -- particularly those with young children -- and psychologists are needed to help them cope with the trauma of abrupt separations, said a panel of psychologists at APA's Annual Convention.

At a session on the impact of federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids on families and immigrant communities, psychologists shared their own experiences in addressing families' resulting mental health needs.

Amaro Laria, PhD, of the Massachusetts School of Professional Psychology, saw the policy's impact firsthand last year when ICE raided a factory in New Bedford, Mass. Agents arrested 361 people, most of them women working as seamstresses and many young mothers with infants, he said. Many of the babies were still breast-feeding, and the officials hadn't considered what would happen to them when they were suddenly separated from their food supply, he said.

In the weeks following the raid, Laria and fellow volunteers from the Massachusetts School of Professional Psychology ran a support group for families with loved ones in detention. Not only did the women in detention suffer humiliating treatment -- with some young mothers claiming that federal detention officers made them prove they were breast-feeding by ordering them to squeeze their breasts -- but their children underwent the stress of separation, and many men lost their jobs as they scrambled to care for their children. As a result, families who were just getting by were reduced to deep poverty, Laria said. Some of the long-term consequences included post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, adjustment disorders, domestic violence and substance abuse.

But what shocked him most was the silence about these events. "There's so much talk on immigration, but when it came to documenting abuses, there's been very little coverage at all," he said.

A push for arrests

ICE, a division of the Department of Homeland Security, started increasing the enforcement effort aimed at undocumented workers in 2006, with high-profile raids netting several hundred employees at a time. Congress has twice failed to enact comprehensive immigration reform, and anger about illegal immigration has spurred the adoption of harsher measures to crack down on illegal immigration. In 2005, 1,116 people were detained nationwide in workplace raids, a figure that more than tripled in 2006 and is continuing to rise every year, said Lydia Buki, PhD, an associate professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

The crackdown coincides with broader immigration trends. In years past, for example, men usually made the trip from Mexico and Central America to the United States alone. But these days, entire families, including young children, are coming too, often establishing U.S. households with both parents working, said Melanie Domenech-Rodriguez, PhD, an associate professor of psychology at Utah State University who works with Latino families with young children on promoting family cohesion and preventing child behavior problems.

Current estimates show 4.7 million children now live in "mixed status" families in the United States, meaning one of their parents is undocumented and does not have legal status to live and work here. Of those children, two-thirds are believed to be U.S. citizens, said Jose Cervantes, PhD, a professor at California State University at Fullerton.

In his private practice, he sees the aftermath of the ICE raids moving from the worksite to residences. One of his clients is a teenage girl, who awoke to the tumult of ICE agents barging through her family's door at 4 a.m. in search of her father. She watched as agents caught and dragged him back by his hair, ripping his shirt and underwear in the struggle.

"His daughter's watching this, so you can imagine the trauma that this caused to this kid," Cervantes said.