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The Us Immigration "Culture of Fear"

I've been receiving calls from young adults in the San Francisco Bay Area who are living in fear that their undocumented family members will be harassed, arrested or even deported in the recent ICE raids in the area.

The Trump Administration's belief that all immigrants are criminals hasn't helped.

Creating a culture of fear, unfortunately, appears to be the Administration's aim. Last year, the Director of the ICE, Tom Homan, was quoted stating, “If you entered this country illegally, you should be looking over your shoulder and you should be worried.”

This unfortunate culture of fear is affecting more than just the undocumented. The Trump Administration's disastrous immigration mandates have upended the lives of countless legal residents and US Citizens as well.

A Culture of Fear

Two recently released studies - one by George Washington University (GWU) and the other by UCLA - have showed the effect that Trump's immigration policies are having on the wellbeing of immigrant families, both documented and undocumented.

The GWU study, which was published in the Journal of Adolescent Health, compares immigrant families across a variety of immigration statuses, including undocumented immigrants, Temporary Protected Status (TPS) holders, Green Card holders and US Citizens. In each of the more than 200 families studied, seventy percent of the teenage children in these families, regardless of their parents’ immigration status, were US citizens.

The study measured levels of worry on the family's well being, as well as the levels of "psychological distress" that the parents experienced on a day-to-day basis. While the study’s authors expected to find that undocumented immigrants worried the most or were more psychologically distressed, it turned out not to be the case.

Parents with Temporary Protected status were overwhelmingly worried about family separation, or worried it would be hard for their child to finish school. Sixty-two percent of these families said they’d often avoided medical care, police, or other services, even though they were legally in the country and entitled to use any of them.

Study author Kathleen Roche stated in an interview, “We were quite struck by the impacts on parents living in the US legally." Temporary legal residents were more likely than undocumented residents to warn their children to stay away from the authorities or change their behavior so they wouldn't be tracked by ICE agents.

Temporary legal residents were also more likely to experience “psychological distress” on a daily basis - the symptoms of which, according to the study's authors, may include depression and anxiety. More than half of TPS recipients scored “highly” distressed - a threshold hit by only about a quarter of undocumented immigrants.

Interestingly enough, more green-card holding immigrants scored as highly distressed by current immigration policies than undocumented immigrants.

The GWU study may be one small sample, but it effectively puts the impact of Trump's immigration policies into human terms. Being a non-citizen in the US - especially one whose status is subject to the whims of the Trump Administration - is emotionally and mentally detrimental, and that radiates out into the family and the community.

“We do know from extensive research,” says Roche of GWU, “that when parents suffer from anxiety and depression, those teenagers are at a much elevated risk of failing in school, engaging in substance use, and having their own mental health problems.”

Mitigating Immigration Fears

Some politicians are trying to mitigate these fears shared by legal and undocumented immigrants alike. Several states, such as California, have developed "Sanctuary Cities."

While there is no legal definition of a “sanctuary city,” the term typically means resistance on the part of local governments in cooperating with the federal government’s enforcement of unpopular laws. This may include passing local or state laws that limit or prohibit aiding federal agents in immigration crackdowns or raids.

Oakland, California is one such city. Mayor Libby Schaaf of Oakland even publicly warned citizens of upcoming large-scale immigration arrest operations - an act which was heavily denounced by the Trump Administration, who has since expressed a desire to charge Mayor Schaaf with some sort of crime for her action.

The Trump Administration is also suing California for it's Sanctuary laws, which are being openly defended by many of California's politicians, including Governor Jerry Brown.

Even with the support of local politicians, the negative effects of Trump's immigration policies are trickling down into communities. The UCLA Civil Rights Project surveyed teachers and other school officials from 730 schools in 24 school districts across 12 states about the impact of immigration enforcement in their classrooms.

Overwhelmingly, teachers report that children have expressed variations on the same fear in the classroom — a fear the UCLA study’s authors paraphrase as “going home and finding that their parents, siblings, or grandparents are no longer there.”

“Fear” was the most common word used by school employees in the survey responses. “Separation” was the second most common. Even green card holders expressed fear of family separation. Two-thirds of school employees said that concerns about immigration enforcement were affecting their students indirectly, causing US Citizens to worry about the wellbeing of their non-citizen friends.

Allowing the US government to create a culture of fear on our streets is taking a huge steps backwards. Across the country activists and immigration supporters are hitting the streets to voice their concern about immigration policy and the passing of the DACA deadline with no resolution. While the White House is creating a negative atmosphere across the country, I'm thankful communities are still coming together to support each other.

If you or anyone you know needs help with their immigration status, please feel free to contact us and we will do whatever we can to help.

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