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Volume 48 Number 3
Edited by Melissa Strompolis (email@example.com
Greetings SCRA! The Policy Column of the TCP is an important outlet to disseminate policy- and advocacy-related activities and accomplishments. Below you will find a snapshot of the recent endeavors of the Policy Committee:
In this Policy Column, Patricia Esparza highlights the psychological and social effects of detention on children and families. Patricia is a doctoral student at the University of Maryland – Baltimore County and has been working with the Policy Committee for the last year as a practicum student. Patricia was able to use the Policy Committee Practicum as a credit requirement for her program and worked with Fabricio Balcazar and others on a policy statement regarding the incarceration of undocumented migrant families. The piece below, written by Patricia, is one component of the entire statement (the statement is currently being reviewed by the Policy Committee). Interestingly, the piece also includes research that was conducted in Lowell, Massachusetts, the site of this year’s SCRA Biennial Conference.
Written by Patricia Esparza, Doctoral Student, University of Maryland, Baltimore County
Practicum Student, SCRA Public Policy Committee (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Family detention is the practice of detaining families (mothers and their children) at detention centers by the United States government. Families enter detention after being arrested by local law enforcement or Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The families are held in these detention centers while they await deportation hearings. Several advocacy groups have called on the U.S. to stop this practice due to the noted human rights violations that have occurred at these facilities (Detention Watch Network, 2014; Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, 2014). While research on the family detention experience is limited, especially in the U.S., the information available suggests that family detention impacts families and communities in several ways. Social scientists have documented multiple effects of parental detention, or even the threat of it, on children and parents across the U.S.
The process and duration of detention can be stressful for every member of a family.
Children of parents who have been detained tend to experience feelings of depression, anxiety, and even post-traumatic stress symptoms (Brabeck, Lykes & Hunter, 2014; Chaudry Capps, Pedroza, Castañeda, Santos, & Scott, 2010). Researchers have found similar findings in the mental health of detained asylum seekers (Physicians for Human Rights & Bellevue/NYU Program for Survivors of Torture, 2003). These findings parallel research in other countries. Interviews with 14 adults and 20 children at a remote immigration detention center in Australia revealed that each person met criteria for at least one psychiatric disorder at the time of the interview (Steel, Momartin, Bateman, Hafshejani, Silove, Everson, Roy, Dudley, Newman, Blick & Mares, 2004). Furthermore, prolonged detention has been shown to have a long-term effect on the psychological health of refugees that persists after the detention (Steel et al., 2004). Again at an Australian detention center, among the 16 adults and 20 children interviewed, all of the children had at least one parent with a psychiatric disorder (Mares & Jureidini, 2004). Of the 10 children (ages 6-17 years old) that were able to undergo a psychological assessment, 100% met criteria for both post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and major depression, 80% exhibited self-harming behaviors, and 70% exhibited symptoms of an anxiety disorder. The children also reported trouble sleeping, poor concentration, little motivation to study, a sense of hopelessness, overwhelming boredom, thoughts of death and dying, and recurrent para-suicidal ideation (Mares & Jureidini, 2004).
In addition to such direct impacts to family members, researchers have examined how the presence of ICE and/or the threat of detention or deportation can be enough to cause significant negative psychological outcomes. For instance, greater vulnerability to the threat of deportation and detention has been associated with negative impacts on the mental health of parents and children (Brabeck & Xu, 2010). In terms of parental impact, greater levels of vulnerability was related to negative emotional well-being, decreased financial stability, and poor parent-child relations. Similarly, children with vulnerable parents were more likely to experience decreased emotional well-being and poor academic performance (Brabeck & Xu, 2010). Furthermore, immigration policies and enforcement of those policies tend to aggravate the mental health problems of undocumented youth and children of undocumented parents (Delva, Horner, Martinez, Sanders, Lopez, & Doering-White, 2013).
The mere presence of ICE in Lowell, MA and nationally, was shown to have spread fear throughout the migrant community (Sládková, Garcia-Mangado, & Reyes-Quinteros, 2012). This fear was described to have shaped the behavior of the people in that community as evidenced by increases in crime overall, fewer filed reports of crimes, direct and indirect health issues and created instability within businesses, schools, and available human services. Furthermore, local community organizations were also impacted in that they lost some program participants, had limited resources to address deportation issues, experienced greater financial burdens, and had to add to the workload of staff (Sládková, et al., 2012). Thus, the mere threat or possibility of detention or deportation can have deleterious effects on the well-being of parents and children and the communities in which they live (Dreby, 2012).
In addition to the limited research on the impact of family detention, children’s voices are notably absent from this literature. Brabeck, Lykes and Hunter (2014) have extensively documented the effects of detention and deportation on children that are separated from their parents and call for more research that offers children an opportunity to tell their stories in their own voices. Undoubtedly, the experiences of children held in these various detention centers throughout the U.S. would help to increase our understandings of current policies and practices on children’s well-being. It would also be valuable to understand how advocacy group efforts have been successful in working toward their goal of closing family detention facilities.
Brabeck, K.M., Lykes, M. B., & Hunter, C. (2014). The psychosocial impact of detention and
deportation on U.S. migrant children and families. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 84,
Brabeck, K., & Xu, Q. (2010). The impact of detention and deportation on Latino immigrant
children and families: A quantitative exploration. Hispanic Journal of Behavioral Sciences, 32,
Caps, R., Casteñda, R. M., Chaudry, A., & Santos, R. (2007). Paying the price: The impact of
immigration raids on America’s children. Washington, DC: Urban Institute and National Council
of La Raza.
Chaudry, A., Capps, R., Pedroza, J., Castañeda, R. M., Santos, R., & Scott, M. M. (2010).
Facing our future: Children in the aftermath of immigration enforcement. Washington, DC:
Urban Institute. Retrieved from
Delva, J., Horner, P., Martinez, R., Sanders, L., Lopez, W. D., & Doering-White, J. (2013).
Mental health problems of children of undocumented parents in the United States: A hidden
crisis. Journal of Community Positive Practices, 13, 25-35.
Derby, J. (2012). The burden of deportation on children in Mexican immigrant families.
Journal of Marriage and Family, 74, 829-845.
Detention Watch Network (2014, September). Expose & close: Artesia family residential
center. Retrieved from
Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS; 2014, August). From persecution to
prison: Child and family detention. Retrieved from http://lirs.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/LIRS-Family
Mares, S. & Jureidini, J. (2004). Psychiatric assessment of children and families in
immigration detention: Clinical, administrative, and ethical issues. Australian & New Zealand
Journal of Public Health, 28, 520-526.
National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC; 2014, August). Costly family detention denies
justice to mothers and children. Retrieved from
Physicians for Human Rights and Bellevue/NYU Program for Survivors of Torture. (2003).
From persecution to prison: The health consequences of detention for asylum seekers. New
York, NY: Author. Retrieved from https://s3.amazonaws.com/PHR_Reports/persecution-to-
Sládková, J., Garcia Mangado, S. M., & Reyes Quinteros, J. (2012). Lowell immigrant
communities in the climate of deportations. Analyses of Social Issues and Public Policy, 12, 78-
Steel, Z., Momartin, S., Bateman, C., Hafshejani, A., Silove, D., Everson, N., Roy, K.,
Dudley, M., Newman, L., Blick, B., & Mares, S. (2004). Psychiatric status of asylum seeker
families held for a protracted period in a remote detention centre in Australia. Australian & New
Zealand Journal of Public Health, 28, 527-536.
Suárez-Orozco, C., Bang, H. J., Kim, H. Y. (2011). I felt like my heart was staying being:
Psychological implications of family separations & reunifications for immigrant youth. Journal
of Adolescent Research, 26, 222-257.
Suárez-Orozco, C., & Yoshikawa, H. (2013). Undocumented status: Implications for child
development, policy, and ethical research. In M. G. Hernández, J. Nguyen, C. L. Saetermoe, &
C. Suárez-Orozco (Eds.), Frameworks and Ethics for Research with Immigrants. New Directions
for Child and Adolescent Development, 141, 61–78.
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