Undocumented immigrants, the majority of whom are Latino and of Mexican-origin, face poor health outcomes in the United States. The stigmatization and barriers that come along with undocumented legal status affect immigrants’ mental health. Moreover, immigrants face additional barriers as a result of linguistic, cultural, and socioeconomic disadvantages. As a result of these disadvantages and the limitations that undocumented legal status poses, this vulnerable and marginalized population faces adverse health outcomes and is at a higher risk for mental and emotional problems.
Many undocumented immigrants come to the United States for family reunification, improved economic opportunities, and to escape poverty, or to flee political oppression. However, the very act of immigrating to another country or crossing the border results in separation from loved ones, discrimination, uncertainties, and even death. In addition, immigrants experience stress while trying to navigate a new culture, language, and customs, and to gain access to needed resources in a new country. Along with these circumstances, undocumented immigrants are confronted with restrictive U.S. immigration policies, anti-immigrant sentiments, and the uncertainties that comes along with their legal status. This has placed undocumented immigrants in a situation where they are threatened with deportation, overly criminalized, and severely disadvantaged in the United States.
Along with these various social and economic hardships that undocumented immigrants experience, their legal status also affects their access to healthcare, which has major implications on their mental health. Many undocumented immigrants lack health insurance and are ineligible for Medicaid. Therefore, a lack of health insurance means that this vulnerable population’s health care needs are unmet. In an article titled “U.S. Immigration Policy and Immigrant Children’s Well-being: The Impact of Policy Shifts,” Androff et. al state that “[t]his deficiency in basic material supports and institutional resources has been associated with negative economic and psychological consequences for parents as well as lower levels of cognitive development among infants” (2011:88). Without these needed health services, undocumented immigrants must confront the stigmatization that comes with their legal status and many psychological consequences on their own.
Sullivan and Rehm’s article, “Mental Health of Undocumented Mexican Immigrants” states that “[t]he psychological burden of being blamed and stigmatized by media and the larger society is manifested in the daily experiences, perceptions, and actions of [Undocumented Mexican Immigrants]. They are at risk of low self-esteem, guilt, shame, fear, and insecurity” (2005:248). Undocumented immigrants are exposed to inadequate occupational safety and health conditions, and they are unable to speak out against these conditions because of their legal status. In addition, their legal status often leads many undocumented immigrants to live in fear, and to isolate themselves, which further marginalizes them from society. Furthermore, they are confronted with their representation in the media, which portrays them as criminals who take jobs from U.S. citizens and exploit public assistance. The limited agency that undocumented immigrants have in the United States and the ongoing stressful experiences they experience has many psychological health implications, such as depression. Sullivan and Rehm’s article goes on to state that depression “can be incapacitating, rendering individuals unable to fulfill daily responsibilities. It is associated with other medical conditions, anxiety, eating disorders, and use of alcohol and illicit drugs” (2005:242). Therefore, the barriers that undocumented immigration status pose affects immigrants’ mental health and would render them incapable of making meaningful contributions to their families, the United States, and society. Granting undocumented immigrants access to quality health care would be a first step towards improving the welfare of this vulnerable population.
Androff, D., Ayón, C., Becerra D., Gurrola M., Salas L., Krysik J., Gerdes K., and Segal E. 2011. “U.S. Immigration Policy and Immigrant Children’s Well-being: The Impact of Policy Shifts.” Journal of Sociology & Social Welfare, 38(1):77-98
Rehm R. and Sullivan M. 2005. “Mental health of Undocumented Mexican Immigrants: A Review of the Literature.” Advances in Nursing Science 28(3):240-251