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Trump immigration policies stress out parents and kids alike

Stress likely to cost all of society with health costs, higher crime rates
Image: Demonstrators protest the government shutdown and the lack of a deal on DACA
Demonstrators protest the government shutdown and the lack of a deal on DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) outside of Federal Plaza on Jan. 22, 2018 in New York.Spencer Platt / Getty Images

The Trump administration’s immigration policies are stressing out Latino parents, who are passing that anxiety along to their kids, a new report finds.

The results are anxiety, PTSD and other mental health problems that can damage the kids long-term, a team at George Washington University found.

And U.S. society as a whole will pay for their problems as kids fail to thrive in school, put pressure on public healthcare systems and, often, turn to crime, the report predicts.

Even legal residents and citizens report being harassed and living in fear of government authorities, and their kids are suffering, too, the report finds.

“It does appear that the immigration policies are harming parents living in this country legally,” said Kathleen Roche, an associate professor of prevention and community health at George Washington University, who led the study team.

“We do know from prior research that when parents suffer from high levels of psychological distress, their adolescent children have greatly elevated risk of not doing well in school, engaging in substance use, and experiencing their own mental health problems,” Roche added.

For the study, published in the Journal of Adolescent Health, the team did in-depth interviews with more than 200 Latino parents, including citizens, permanent legal residents and people living under temporary protected status. About 75 percent of their children were born in the U.S. and therefore citizens — the rest were eligible for DACA, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

They are afraid that they or their relatives will be deported, and many reported frequent, even daily harassment from police and other authorities.

“The risks these teenagers are experiencing by virtue of their parents’ poor mental health is not only going to derail their own futures and wellbeing, but those will come at a very high cost to our society in terms of criminal justice and healthcare system impacts,” Roche said.

“Our whole society will bear the brunt.”

Immigration policy changes that have gone into effect since President Donald Trump’s election include expanded eligibility for deportation, the proposed elimination of Temporary Protected Status and the debate over the future of DACA.

Silver Spring, Maryland teacher Damaris Encarnacion saw immediate effects in the kids at the middle school where she was working at the end of 2016, when Trump was elected after a campaign full of anti-immigrant rhetoric.

“From day one when President Trump was elected, kids were crying,” Encarnacion, a Latina who is a U.S. citizen, told NBC News.

“Kids were coming up and saying. ‘This might be goodbye’. You want to tell them, ‘Hey, it is not going to happen’ but the reality is this is something they may have to go through,” she said.

“Teachers, too were affected. The environment was tough to work in. These children are scared.”

Encarnacion says the effects can be devastating, even for children whose families are not at risk of deportation.

“You are going to see a lot more aggressive behavior,” she said.

“Kids act in ways that they don’t usually act that can get them into trouble. Adults have coping methods. Kids, the way they cope with it is in a way that is immature, can be aggressive. They are going to have a lot of emotional issues to deal with. It’s going to have a long-term effect on our society.”

She has noticed children dropping out of after school activities, such as sports and clubs, because their parents don’t want them away from home after school hours. “Some kids who usually were verbal, they started shutting down. Some of them started to become more isolated,” she added.

“Their performance academically has been impacted. You could tell there was a lot of fear.”

Her observations and the findings in the report are reinforced by a report released Wednesday by the Civil Rights Project at the University of California, Los Angeles, which found students are missing classes, letting grades slip and showing emotional and behavioral problems.

Roche said families are avoiding police even when they need help and neglecting healthcare and food assistance because they are afraid to interact with any form of government.

Encarnacion herself has passed along some of the anxiety to her son, who is 12.

“I tell him, down the road don’t be surprised if people start asking you if you were born here,” she said.

“A lot of times those of us who are legal are going to be treated as though we are not because to them, we are a face. It affects all of us."

Roche said even if people are not sympathetic to the fear of immigrants or their families, they should be worried about the costs to themselves.

“The American taxpayer will end up paying in the form of higher healthcare costs and our prison system and our police system,” she said.

“Our whole society will bear the brunt.”

Encarnacion said it has broken her heart to be unable to reassure her students and her own son.

“Kids always want that certainty from their parents that everything’s going to be just fine. But the truth of the matter is I can’t promise him something that I have no control over.”