ASU professor co-authors research on how immigration policy affects Latino adolescents

Monday, March 23, 2020

Arizona State University Professor Rebecca White recently co-authored a study on the negative impact of recent immigration policy changes on Latino adolescents dealing with family separation due to the detention or deportation of a family member. 

In the study, 547 Latino adolescents were surveyed from a community just outside of Atlanta. A quarter of those teens indicated that at least one of their family members had been detained or deported in the past year. Further, family member detention or deportation in the past year predicted increased chance of suicidal ideation, early alcohol use and/or mental and behavioral health problems. The study was published by JAMA Pediatrics and funded by the National Institute of Health.

“Our study offers the first direct scientific evidence indicating that current U.S. immigration policies might contribute to serious mental and behavioral health risks for Latino/a youth,” said lead author Kathleen Roche, associate professor at George Washington University.

White, an associate professor in the T. Denny Sanford School of Social and Family Dynamics, was involved in this collaborative research because of her strong research background working with Latino families and communities. In particular, she has studied how adolescent development unfolds in family, school and neighborhood contexts, and relative to broader national contexts related to immigration policy. White and Roche have co-authored past research on how context shapes adolescent development and one of their prior collaborations examined how the contemporary political context, in particular, is creating stress for parents in Latino families.

Profile picture of Rebecca White

Associate Professor Rebecca White

White says one of the important aspects of this study to bear in mind is that the overwhelming majority of adolescents experiencing mental and behavioral health issues associated with detention and deportation of family members are U.S. citizens. 

“Even if you are an American citizen, deportation or detention of a family member is harmful for you,” White said.

Asked what the findings should lead to, White expressed hope that it will lead to a change in U.S. immigration policy.

“If what is causal here is the policy, then we would like to see the policy change,” White said. “In light of the policy not changing, or the status quo maintaining, then we really need to think about how to support these teens to deal with the challenges of deportation and detention of a family member.”

White says one of the benefits of this study and some of her previous work has been to equip folks on the frontline of the immigration battle with the scientific evidence they need to support immigrant families affected by contemporary immigration policy.

"There are all kinds of important tools we can use to understand how family separations affect Latino/a adolescents. For example, we can learn by listening to individuals’ stories. We can learn through high-quality journalism. We can learn from the front-line organizations providing legal and social services to affected families. In this JAMA Pediatrics paper, we relied on the scientific method to document the impacts of family member detention or deportation on the mental and behavioral health of Latino/a adolescents. That is the contribution we, as scientists, can make.”

Read the full study

Article by Wesley Jackson