Immigration Enforcement and the Mental Health of Latino High School Students

Randy Capps, Jodi Berger Cardoso, Kalina Brabeck, Michael Fix and Ariel G. Ruiz Soto
Date of Publication: 
September, 2020
Source Organization: 
Migration Policy Institute

This report explores how fear of immigration enforcement is related to the mental health and school engagement of young Latinos, the fastest-growing group of high school students nationwide. It also considers the role of other stressors, including discrimination and economic hardship, and factors that may support students’ resilience, such as spirituality and strong family relationships.

This analysis draws its findings from a study that was conducted by researchers from the Migration Policy Institute, University of Houston, and Rhode Island College during the 2018–19 school year and that had two components: self-assessments completed by hundreds of Latino students in 11 high schools, and semistructured interviews with dozens of education professionals and community experts. The two study sites—Harris County, TX and Rhode Island—offer contrasting immigration-enforcement contexts.

Among the study’s findings are:

  • A majority of the students in both Harris County and Rhode Island (67 percent versus 52 percent) feared that someone close to them would be arrested and deported. While fears were more common among youth in Harris County, which has a higher level of immigration enforcement, these findings suggest deportation fears are not limited to places where enforcement is widespread.
  • More than half of the students reported symptoms of mental-health conditions such as anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), or depression at levels high enough to warrant treatment.
  • Students who feared immigration enforcement most acutely—and who changed their behaviors as a result—had the worst mental-health outcomes. Almost one-third of students in the study had changed their behavior as a result of enforcement fears.

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Capps, R., Cardoso, J., Brabeck, K., Fix, M., & Soto, A. (2020, September). Immigration Enforcement and the Mental Health of Latino High School Students. Migration Policy Institute.