Middle-school Latino children report more depressive symptoms after family member arrested

August 01, 2019

WASHINGTON -- Latino children who experience the immigration-related arrest of a family member report more severe levels of depression than those who don't have such an experience, especially if one or both parents are undocumented, according to new research published by the American Psychological Association.

For the study, a team of researchers from Oklahoma State University surveyed 611 Latino seventh graders from a public school district in Oklahoma. The research was published online in the journal Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology.

"We were shocked that 29% of the students reported an immigration-related arrest of a family member," said lead researcher Zachary Giano, PhD, a post-doctoral fellow at Oklahoma State University. "These arrests often are a distant abstract fear or urban legend for many Latino kids, but it becomes very real and frightening when it happens to their family, which can have serious repercussions for their mental health."

The level of depressive symptoms for all of the Latino students in the study already was higher than average, possibly because of discrimination against the Latino community, Giano said. Those symptoms increased to clinical levels of depression for students who experienced the immigration-related arrest of a family member. The reported depressive symptoms increased further when a student had one undocumented parent and kept rising if both parents were undocumented.

While 85% of the students in the study were U.S. citizens because they were born here, one-fifth of them stated they had one undocumented parent, while almost one-third reported that both of their parents were undocumented. Giano said those numbers are probably higher because some children wouldn't want to reveal that information. Levels of depression also were higher for girls and students who were older than the mean age of 13 among the participants.

"Middle school is already a tumultuous time, and kids in the seventh grade aren't supposed to experience these high levels of stress and trauma," Giano said. "It makes school a lower priority, which is really detrimental at this age. Studies have shown that if you fall behind academically in middle school, it's really hard to catch up later."

That stress can lead to Latino children acting out or becoming withdrawn at school since depression manifests in different ways. School counselors, teachers and administrators need to be aware of these issues instead of suspending or expelling Latino students for behavioral problems, Giano said.

Oklahoma has a large immigrant population, but it isn't a typical entry point like southern Texas, Florida or California, so it has fewer school resources and support services for the Latino community, Giano said. Since the study was conducted in one city in Oklahoma, the findings might vary in other parts of the country based on available resources, state immigration policies or other factors.

Due to the wording of the survey, the researchers did not know which family members were arrested or whether they were released, jailed or deported. The study also couldn't determine if children had witnessed the arrest or just heard about it. The survey was conducted in 2009 as part of a larger study, but researchers analyzed the arrest data more recently because of the growing crisis facing immigrants who have been jailed, separated from their children or deported.

Giano said rates of depression among Latino children may be even higher now as administration officials and others make xenophobic comments indicating that Latino immigrants aren't welcome in the United States and need to be kept out with a border wall.

"This discriminatory rhetoric has really evolved in a more sinister way, and it's impacting the Latino community," Giano said. "I think kids in middle school usually aren't interested in politics, but there is this cascading effect of dangerous rhetoric that's coming down from the top and reaching all the way down to middle school."

Recent studies have shown that even second graders are now using more racial slurs, Giano said. "They don't come up with that by themselves," he said. "They hear it from adults and repeat it."

Other studies also have found negative effects when children experience immigration-related arrests of family members, including eating and sleeping disturbances, distrust of law enforcement, and increased levels of fear, anxiety and aggression. Those children also are more likely to suffer long-term emotional and behavioral consequences extending into adulthood, including substance abuse and unemployment.
Article: "Immigration-Related Arrest, Parental Documentation Status, and Depressive Symptoms Among Early Adolescent Latinos," by Zachary Giano, PhD, Machele Anderson, PhD, Karina M. Shreffler, PhD, Ronald B. Cox Jr., PhD, Michael J. Merten, PhD, and Kami L. Gallus, PhD; Oklahoma State University; Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology, published online Aug. 1, 2019.

Full text of the article is available from the APA Public Affairs Office and at


Contact: Zachary Giano may be contacted at giano@okstate.edu or 808-781-6559.

The American Psychological Association, in Washington, D.C., is the largest scientific and professional organization representing psychology in the United States. APA's membership includes nearly 118,400 researchers, educators, clinicians, consultants and students. Through its divisions in 54 subfields of psychology and affiliations with 60 state, territorial and Canadian provincial associations, APA works to advance the creation, communication and application of psychological knowledge to benefit society and improve people's lives.


If you do not want to receive APA news releases, please let us know at public.affairs@apa.org or 202-336-5700.

American Psychological Association

Related Science Articles from Brightsurf:

75 science societies urge the education department to base Title IX sexual harassment regulations on evidence and science
The American Educational Research Association (AERA) and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) today led 75 scientific societies in submitting comments on the US Department of Education's proposed changes to Title IX regulations.

Science/Science Careers' survey ranks top biotech, biopharma, and pharma employers
The Science and Science Careers' 2018 annual Top Employers Survey polled employees in the biotechnology, biopharmaceutical, pharmaceutical, and related industries to determine the 20 best employers in these industries as well as their driving characteristics.

Science in the palm of your hand: How citizen science transforms passive learners
Citizen science projects can engage even children who previously were not interested in science.

Applied science may yield more translational research publications than basic science
While translational research can happen at any stage of the research process, a recent investigation of behavioral and social science research awards granted by the NIH between 2008 and 2014 revealed that applied science yielded a higher volume of translational research publications than basic science, according to a study published May 9, 2018 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Xueying Han from the Science and Technology Policy Institute, USA, and colleagues.

Prominent academics, including Salk's Thomas Albright, call for more science in forensic science
Six scientists who recently served on the National Commission on Forensic Science are calling on the scientific community at large to advocate for increased research and financial support of forensic science as well as the introduction of empirical testing requirements to ensure the validity of outcomes.

World Science Forum 2017 Jordan issues Science for Peace Declaration
On behalf of the coordinating organizations responsible for delivering the World Science Forum Jordan, the concluding Science for Peace Declaration issued at the Dead Sea represents a global call for action to science and society to build a future that promises greater equality, security and opportunity for all, and in which science plays an increasingly prominent role as an enabler of fair and sustainable development.

PETA science group promotes animal-free science at society of toxicology conference
The PETA International Science Consortium Ltd. is presenting two posters on animal-free methods for testing inhalation toxicity at the 56th annual Society of Toxicology (SOT) meeting March 12 to 16, 2017, in Baltimore, Maryland.

Citizen Science in the Digital Age: Rhetoric, Science and Public Engagement
James Wynn's timely investigation highlights scientific studies grounded in publicly gathered data and probes the rhetoric these studies employ.

Science/Science Careers' survey ranks top biotech, pharma, and biopharma employers
The Science and Science Careers' 2016 annual Top Employers Survey polled employees in the biotechnology, biopharmaceutical, pharmaceutical, and related industries to determine the 20 best employers in these industries as well as their driving characteristics.

Three natural science professors win TJ Park Science Fellowship
Professor Jung-Min Kee (Department of Chemistry, UNIST), Professor Kyudong Choi (Department of Mathematical Sciences, UNIST), and Professor Kwanpyo Kim (Department of Physics, UNIST) are the recipients of the Cheong-Am (TJ Park) Science Fellowship of the year 2016.

Read More: Science News and Science Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.