BERKELEY, Calif. — Regardless of where you stand on the political spectrum, there is no denying that immigration, more specifically Latinx immigration, has become a hotly contested and debated issue in the United States following the 2016 presidential election. Now, a new study conducted by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley finds that all of this debate around immigration is taking a significant mental toll on California’s Hispanic youth population, including the children of American citizens.
Researchers analyzed the mental and physical well-being of 357 adolescents born to Central American and Mexican immigrants living in the United States in the years directly before, and after, the 2016 election. Health information including blood pressure, sleeping patterns, and anxiety or depression symptoms were collected from the youth at 14, just before the 2016 election, and then again at the age of 16.
Nearly half of the teenagers surveyed reported increased worries, anxieties, and trouble sleeping compared to two years earlier. Additionally, between 41% and 45% of those surveyed at age 16 admitted to worrying, at least sometimes, “about the impact of immigration policies on the family,” “about family separation due to deportation,” and “that a family member would be reported to immigration officials.”
“These results are problematic, because high levels of anxiety are not necessarily fleeting,” explains co-author Nancy Gonzales in a press release. “They can impact other aspects of children’s well-being including their ability to stay focused in school, and if they are living with prolonged anxiety, that also has long-term effects on their physical health and susceptibility to problems like alcohol and substance abuse.”
Researchers also noted that these results are especially troublesome considering they are coming out of California, a sanctuary state that offers immigrants far more support and protective policies than other states. Brenda Eskenazi, a professor and chair at the UC Berkeley School of Public Health, adds “that this study is probably reflecting the best-case scenario of how children of immigrants in other states are being affected.”
The research team say they will follow up with the teens once again at age 18 in order to determine if this increase in anxiety and worry has continued.
The study is published in the Journal of the American Medical Association: Pediatrics.