Since the 8 November election, pediatricians and clinics serving undocumented immigrants and other low-income patients have reported a spike in anxiety and panic attacks, particularly among children who worry that they or their parents might now face deportation.
One little boy in North Carolina has been suffering crippling stomach aches in class because he’s afraid he might return home to find his parents gone. In California, many families are reporting that their children are leaving school in tears because their classmates have told them they are going to be thrown out of the country.
Children are showing up in emergency rooms alone because their parents are afraid of being picked up by Immigration and Customs Enforcement if they show their faces. Even American-born children are suffering – one boy in the south-east asked a doctor for Prozac because he was worried about his undocumented friend.
“It’s as though a volcano erupted. It’s been awful,” said Mimi Lind, director of behavioral health at the Venice Family Clinic, one of the largest providers of healthcare to low-income families in southern California. “People who don’t have a history of anxiety and depression are coming forward with symptoms they’ve never had before. And people who had those symptoms already are getting much worse.”
It’s too soon to put precise figures on the wave of Trump-related anxiety, but health professionals and immigrant rights groups say it is unmistakable. “People worry their families will be broken up, that parents will be deported and children will end up in foster care, on a scale that we’ve never seen before. The feeling out there is one of great fear,” said Marielena Hincapié of the National Immigration Law Center.
Some of the Trump-related anxiety was evident even before the election, especially in states where Republican-dominated legislatures have pushed through measures to make it harder for immigrants to access education, healthcare and other basic services. Trump’s election, however, turned the abiding worry into a full-blown crisis – not least because his victory was unexpected.
Julie Linton, a pediatrician from Winston-Salem, North Carolina, who also serves on the American Academy of Pediatrics’ immigrant child health special interest group, started receiving panicked calls from patients at 6.30am on the morning of 9 November, and she has been deluged since.
Many undocumented parents with sick children born in the United States are now making contingency plans in case they are deported, she says, and in so doing have to face an agonizing choice: whether to leave their children behind, or to risk losing access to the care they need in their home countries. She sees Syrian refugees as well as patients from Mexico and Central America, where it may be difficult or impossible, for example, to find devices to enable children with neuromuscular disorders to walk.
“Parents are asking me: ‘What do I do? How do I set up a power of attorney in case I’m deported?’” Linton said. “It’s hard enough to care for a child with special healthcare needs without having to worry about the threat of deportation.”
It is not just families and children that have felt the impact. Many patients who are vulnerable anyway – alcoholics, drug addicts, those with degenerative diseases or mental health struggles – have been knocked backwards. “To them, it feels that another part of their power has been taken away when they’ve just started to build themselves up again,” said Eileen Garcia, a therapist who looks after HIV and Aids patients at the Venice Family Clinic.
One of her patients, a middle-aged undocumented immigrant who wanted to be called Maria (not her real name), said that while she had been shocked when she received her initial HIV diagnosis she took it in stride because she knew help was available. “But this,” she said, “feels like a death sentence.”
As Maria sees it, she may lose access to treatment if the Trump administration scraps President Obama’s Affordable Care Act, and she may lose it, too, if she is deported and cannot find similar services back in her home country (which she did not want to name). “It’s a double worry,” she said.
The fear felt by many patients is reflected in the protective instincts of their caregivers. For this story, doctors and therapists were extremely careful not to give away patients’ names, or more than the most basic details of their medical profiles, or even in some cases the state where they live for fear of providing clues to authorities pursing an anti-immigrant crackdown.
They also struggle to know what to say to address their patients’ concerns, especially at this early stage.
“Many of us feel pretty helpless right now,” Linton, the North Carolina pediatrician, agreed. “We try to remain nonpartisan but we’re unabashedly pro-child and that’s a hard place to sit right now. For me, as a pediatrician and as a mom, it’s heart-breaking to think that a child is worth less based on conversations happening at the local, regional or national level.”
“This waiting time is the most anxiety-provoking,” Lind, the behavioral health specialist said. “No one can say anything. We have no way of allaying people’s anxiety with concrete facts.”
Read more: https: //www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/nov/25/donald-trump-immigration-deportation-children-doctors