by Eliel Acosta, Field Coordinator, Central PA
“You’re not poor because you’re an immigrant, you’re an immigrant because you’re poor” – Willie Baptist
What’s the impact of living as an undocumented immigrant on one’s mental health? Does having to worry about deportation of your family or friends, the fear of driving without a license, the stress of having poor or no access to healthcare and being separated from loved ones affect your mental state of health? These are the questions that I set out to answer as I began a research project as a student at Mount St. Mary’s University.
I grew up in Arendstville, Pennsylvania which is a small town outside of Gettysburg. Arendstville is known for its yearly Apple Harvest during the fall. Absent from the festival are the undocumented immigrant workers who pick and package the apple products. Immigration is a hot topic in this country that is used as a political football by both major parties. The real human beings who migrate are doing so out of desperation because their human needs are not being met. The laws about who and how many can legally migrate change over time, and they are made by elites, for political and economic reasons that benefit their interests. Immigrants are not causing the problems that citizens face, they are the affected by the same power structure that result in suffering and lack of human rights for US-born citizens.
I targeted my research toward young adults who grew up undocumented for the majority of their lives. The study consisted of 98 participants (15 to 25 years old) in Pennsylvania and Maryland and students from Mount Saint Mary’s University. The results indicated that participants who were undocumented because they had not qualified or had not applied to receive a work permit and protection under the DACA program (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) had higher levels of depression and stress and lower levels of self-esteem.
I also conducted interviews with 16 adolescents who had grown up undocumented. I found that 65% of the participants felt negative emotions when finding about their undocumented status as teenagers for the first time. Ninety-three percent (93%) of the participants reported that they had revealed their legal status to a friend or a teacher and 92% reported having negative emotions prior to revealing their status. Eighty-seven percent (87%) reported feeling fear of I.C.E (Immigration Custom Enforcement). Sixty percent (60%) reported having experienced a deportation of a family member or close friend. It was common for the participants to have tears during the interview. I think at that point I realized that I was digging into something really deep.
I joined Put People First! PA to push for a better health care system. The ACA does not meet our human right to healthcare as citizens and undocumented immigrants are left out altogether. With the current system we are dehumanized and end up blaming each other. We are divided among each other by a system that magnifies our differences because that’s the only way the elite know how to maintain their power. Can you imagine what is possible when we unite? I can, and that’s why I’m here.