DREAMers at Greater Risk for Psychological Distress, Reduced Quality of Life

Immigrants who came to the United States illegally as young children and who meet the requirements of the Development Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act (DREAMers) are at greater risk for mental health problems, according to new research at Rice University in Houston.

For the study, researchers evaluated the mental health of Mexican immigrants living illegally in the United States in high-risk areas (places with strong opposition and strict laws regarding immigrants living here illegally).

Lead study author Dr. Luz Garcini, a postdoctoral research fellow in the department of psychology at Rice, said that DREAMers are at risk for psychological distress and reduced quality of life as a result of the many complex stressors they face. DREAMers often experience these stressors over a long period of time, under harsh living conditions, and with no access to proper mental health services.

The article is published in the American Journal of Psychiatry.

In the paper, the researchers presented a clinical perspective that emphasizes how living in the country without proper documentation affects mental health as a result of facing constant institutional and societal exclusion.

For the study, the researchers surveyed nearly 260 people. To be eligible, the respondents had to confirm that they were living in the U.S. without proper documentation.

Of all the participants, those aged 18-25 were the most likely to show psychological distress (63 percent). In addition, more than 90 percent of all participants cited the loss of their home, social status, family, and symbolic self as reasons for mental health distress.

“DREAMers are often marginalized and discriminated against, and as a result they may become isolated from the larger educational and work communities,” Garcini said.

“Many also experience separation from deported family members, and they do not have the option of traveling internationally to visit them. Finally, they live in constant fear of deportation and experience a sense of voicelessness, invisibility, and limited opportunities, due to their conflicting undocumented status.”

Garicini hopes that the new findings will inform the development of interventions and advocacy efforts for this at-risk immigrant subgroup.

“Debates on programs and policies pertaining to DREAMers are complex and multifaceted, and differences of opinion and divisions on policy options are long-standing,” she said.

“However, as clinicians, we may contribute by devising solutions grounded in evidence and developing alternatives designed to facilitate access to culturally and contextually sensitive mental health services for these at-risk youths, which is critical to protecting their mental health and their basic human rights.”

Source: Rice University