Undocumented immigrants faced unique mental health challenges during COVID-19 pandemic

Luz Garcini

Four years after the U.S. shut down in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, research from Rice University suggests undocumented immigrants’ mental health challenges were compounded due to stresses stemming from their unauthorized status.

Luz Garcini

“Implications of Undocumented Status for Latinx Families During the COVID-19 Pandemic: A Call to Action” appears in the Journal of Clinical Child & Adolescent Psychology and examines how undocumented immigrants navigated the COVID-19 pandemic.

During a series of in-depth interviews with undocumented individuals or those from mixed-status Latino families living along the U.S.-Mexico border in South Texas, the researchers found four prevalent stressors faced by these individuals and their families, all of which had major negative implications for mental health.

The stressors reported included:

  1. Anti-immigrant rhetoric and actions;

  2. Family stressors and disruptions in family relationships;

  3. Economic changes and financial losses; and

  4. Limited access to health care.

“Anti-immigrant rhetoric and actions have been prevalent in the U.S. for many years, and throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the sociopolitical climate in the U.S. further fueled anti-immigrant discourse and policies that increased distrust and fear among families with undocumented status,” said Luz Garcini, interim director of Community and Public Health at the Rice Kinder Institute for Urban Research, assistant professor of psychological sciences at Rice, faculty scholar at the Rice Baker Institute for Public Policy and the study’s lead author. “We were disappointed to see the toll the pandemic took on these families, but it was not entirely surprising.”

Garcini said while these particular issues were a source of stress for many throughout the pandemic, they were especially troubling for families with undocumented status, who live in fear of being deported due to their circumstances.

So what can be done? Garcini and her fellow authors wrote that identifying innovative ways to address the complex mental health and social needs of families with undocumented status is essential to reduce risk and prevent further harm in this vulnerable yet resilient population.

“It is essential that mental health, medical and other allied health professionals become aware of the systemic oppression faced by Latino immigrant families, provide culturally competent services and support policies that would increase equitable access to health services,” the authors concluded.

The article was co-authored by Alejandro Vázquez from Utah State University, Cristina Abraham and Ciciya Abraham from the University of Texas at San Antonio, Vyas Sarabu from the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio and Pamela Lizette Cruz from the Rice Baker Institute for Public Policy’s Center for the United States and Mexico.

This study was funded by a grant from the National Institutes of Health’s National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI; K01HL150247; PI: Garcini).