Anxiety in Latino children of immigrants resulting from ICE raids

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Long Island Wins is running a two part series on anxiety in immigrant children and children of immigrants as a response to recent threats of ICE raids and other anxieties these children might be experiencing.

Part 1 of our series talks about common anxiety disorders affecting Latino children and is authored by Maria Elisa Cuadra-Fernandez, Executive Director/CEO of COPAY Inc., a bilingual professional youth prevention and leadership development agency.
In our country, the newest citizens are thousands of Latino children and adolescents born in the United States, whose parents are foreign born. Their families live in constant hiding and fear of discovery, prolonged incarceration, and eventual deportation.

Our newest citizens, the Latino children, live in chronic fear and terror that their mother or father will be taken, will disappear, and will never be seen again. They carry and express this terror daily both verbally and with their actions. They take it to school with them daily, to bed with them every night, and it is constantly present in every interaction they have with peers and others.

The level of chronic stress and fear experienced is what anxiety disorders and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) are made of. In fact, their normal reactions to the very real threat of separation/abandonment are, by definition, the same as the definition of a diagnosable anxiety disorder. When ICE raids are reported in the media, this heightens anxiety significantly. This is damaging, psychologically, emotionally, and neurologically, to developing children.

Children are aware that families have been separated due to deportation elsewhere. The questions they frequently ask are “Will this happen to me and to my family here?” “What about my parents? They’re going to take them in the middle of the night?” “Do you think they’ll take me too?”

The moral, ethical and clinically sound response to these questions must be no.

To develop normally, children need the love and safety of their parents and family. They need to be present and they need assurance so they are free to be children and to grow.

Latino children are citizens of the United States and will grow up in this country and be this nation’s next generation. The ICE raids, as currently conducted, are forcing them to grow up in fear and with extreme chronic stress. They are frequently referred to community based treatment facilities with symptoms of Anxiety Disorders including Generalized Anxiety and Post Traumatic Stress. Latina girls currently have the highest incidence of suicidality among the U.S. population.

The current problem faced by many Latino children relative to real fear and stress over potential family loss, which are symptoms of Anxiety Disorders, are:

– Constant thoughts and intense fears about the safety of parents and caregivers.
– Refusing to go to school.
– Stomach aches and other physical complaints.
– Being overly clingy.
– Panic or tantrums related to having to separate from parents.
– Trouble sleeping or nightmares.
– Fear about a specific thing.
– Fear that causes significant distress.
– Fear of meeting or having to talk to particular people.
– Avoidance.
– Having few friends.
– Worries over things before they actually happen.
– Constant worries or concerns about family.
– Repetitive or unwanted thoughts (obsessions) or actions (compulsions).
– Fears of embarrassment.
– Low self-esteem or lack of self-confidence.

The authorities and some elected officials often focus on the undocumented immigrants but seldom on the daily plight of the innocent child or teenager. U.S. born Latino children have become victims of government policies that threaten the integrity of their families and that deny their normal human and developmental need for their parents.

Latino children, like all children, need the freedom and safety to just be children and grow. The energy the child must invest in managing and coping with their fear and stress is energy that is lost to them relative to their cognitive, emotional, psychological, social and academic development.

Stay tune for part II next week for more information about anxiety in immigrant children and tips for parents to help children cope with deportation raids.

*María Elisa Cuadra-Fernandez, PhD/ABD, LCSW-R, ACSW, CASAC, CPP, CPS, ICADC, ICPS, is the Executive Director/CEO of COPAY Inc., a bilingual professional out-patient treatment, youth prevention and leadership development agency. She is on the faculty of Adelphi University, School of Social Work and currently serves as the Chairperson of the Long Island Hispanic Coalition and the Nassau County District Attorney’s Heroin Prevention Task Force. The author can be reached at (516) 466-2509 or MECFCOPAY@aol.com

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