Matters of the Heart & Mind
By: Mayra Alvarez, President of The Children’s Partnership & Cynthia Buiza, Executive Director of California Immigrant Policy Center
This week, California will commemorate the legacy of Cesar Chavez, a labor leader, champion for equality, and founder of the United Farm Workers of America. Cesar Chavez symbolizes the struggle for civil rights, a demand that each of us that call the United States home need fair wages, to feel safe in our communities and have access to health care. We are reminded that the struggle for civil rights and equality remains, especially for immigrants and children of immigrants. The national rhetoric on immigrants and recent Executive Orders on immigration have put the immigrant community on high alert and forced many back into the shadows, and in the process, put their physical and mental health at risk.
We can understand this first-hand – one of us is the daughter of Mexican immigrants and the other an immigrant from the Philippines. We are also leaders of two nonprofit organizations advocating for families in California and across the nation – one through advocacy for children; the other through advocacy for immigrants. The communities we serve are diverse but they also have many things in common: more than half of children in California are from immigrant families. Over one and a half million have an undocumented parent; and one and three-quarter of a million are undocumented themselves. Together, we serve these communities and we take pride in doing so because we know immigrants are an integral part of our state and nation. We also know that the Administrative actions targeting immigrant communities have impacted the health and wellbeing of children of immigrants and it needs to be addressed.
From distress in the classroom to weeping outside of school, the new Administration’s approach to immigration enforcement is causing severe emotional suffering for immigrants and their loved ones. These actions have a devastating impact on local communities and the state as a whole; and tearing at the social fabric of the community. The national anti-immigrant policies will have a lasting effect on the health and well-being of children in immigrant families – including U.S. citizen children who live in mixed-status households.
Immigration policies indirectly and directly impact family ties, community structures, and the social and emotional development of children. Many undocumented children, already bring with them traumatic experiences from their countries of origin or during the often difficult journey to the U.S. or through the resettlement process. Just as the American Academy of Pediatrics has called on pediatricians across the country to take action, we ask our community members – teachers, health care professionals, and others “who care for all children in immigrant communities throughout the United States [to] be aware of the traumatic events these children have experienced to better understand and address their complex medical, mental health and legal needs.” For children in immigrant families living with an undocumented parent or sibling, we ask that you recognize the daily impact such stress may have on the health of these children. The adverse childhood experiences faced by immigrant children are significant and likely to affect them into adulthood.
Children of immigrants are the fastest-growing child population in the United States. They will be an increasingly important part of our workforce, and will help subsidize Medicare and contribute to state and local economies. As California remains a change agent for our nation and immigrant communities, The Children’s Partnership and the California Immigrant Policy Center are combining efforts to examine the impact of immigration policies and actions on the mental health of children in immigrant families in California and identify what more can be done at the local, state, and national level to support the healthy development of these children. The release of the brief The Effect of Hostile Immigration Policies on Children’s Mental Health is the first in a series of initiatives to better understand what more we can do as a community to support the health and wellbeing of children in immigrant families. In the coming weeks, we will assess the impact of harmful federal policy changes on children in immigrant families in California. With commitment and leadership focused on sensible policy solutions, we can ensure that children in immigrant families remain healthy, feel secure, and continue to thrive.
To learn more, visit: The Children’s Partnership