Sad Violins: Illegal Aliens Turn To Activism To Help Cope With Trauma

Let’s say you go and rob a convenience store. Or steal someone’s identity. Take someone’s credit card and use it. You’re caught and sentenced to jail. Does anyone really care if you’re feeling bummed about it? You did this. Are you taking pride in breaking the law? You intentionally broke the law. Suck it up, buttercup. Ah, but, not illegal aliens

Pride, power and resilience: How activism helps undocumented immigrants cope with trauma

Germán Cadenas was 15 when he packed up a few clothes, his beloved magic trick cards, a treasured coin box and a portfolio of his drawings.

It was 2002. Cadenas, his mother and younger brother were flying from their native Venezuela for a Christmas visit with Cadenas’ dad – who had migrated to Maricopa county, Arizona, two years before – hoping to send money to his family as Venezuela descended into chaos.

Reunited in Arizona over the holiday, the family decided what mattered most was staying together. They let their visas expire and settled in.

Cadenas lived in Arizona as an undocumented immigrant for nine years. Nearly 10 years later, he’s 34 and a US citizen. He’s a professor of psychology at Lehigh University, and has published a prodigious body of research focusing on the psychology of undocumented immigrants.

For at least a decade, researchers have documented mental health conditions such as anxiety, depression, PTSD and feelings of low self-worth in America’s immigrant communities.

First, how did he get citizenship after breaking U.S. immigration law? That’s rather against the law. Second, if illegals feel those feelings, well, oh well. That’s on them. I have zero sympathy. If you get drunk and total you’re car, that’s on you. You put yourself in that situation. If they don’t want to feel these feelings they can stay in their countries, not come to the U.S. illegally, as well as leave when their visas expire.

Such mental health issues can stem from being marginalized, hunted and detained as well as from feeling dehumanized by xenophobic rhetoric, an exclusionary higher educational system, predatory employment practices, civil rights violations and the uncertainties of changing immigration policies, researchers and advocates say.

It’s impossible to accurately say how many of the nation’s approximately 10.5 million undocumented immigrants and their family members are living with mental health issues tied to their immigration status. But the number of those afflicted is likely to increase as the climate crisis and geopolitical unrest drive more migrants to cross the nation’s borders.

Perhaps they’d feel better if they leave. Are we meant to feel sorry for law breakers? Especially when they’ve invaded the U.S. and are now demanding all sorts of free stuff, including citizenship, while so often refusing to learn the language and assimilate?

Cadenas has focused his research on a psychological construct called “critical consciousness”. He’s found that when immigrants identify systems that psychologically harm them and then engage in social justice activism to resist and dismantle those same systems, their efforts serve as a “coping mechanism that helps protect their mental health” and helps others heal.

These people should be at the top of the list of those arrested and deported.

“It felt like nowhere was really safe,” Cadenas recalls. “We could be raided at work, or stopped while driving or Ice could come to our home. There was no place of refuge.”

“Knowing there were laws and voters who were ok with this was horrifying,” he says. “People like me were treated as if we were less than human.”

Piss off. You were here in violation of federal law. If you break the law, you should feel that nowhere is safe. Lots more whining till we get to the end

The DACA program that protects her was started by the Obama administration, which also put her father into deportation proceedings. She’s grateful for DACA, yet traumatized by the deportation nightmare. She wonders sometimes if she’s “the only person who thinks Obama has done bad things”.

Maybe it’s a mistake to assume those who have experienced immigration trauma seek closure, she says. Maybe what they want instead is a simple “acknowledgment that harm was done”.

Harm by who? The people who were trying to enforce the laws you broke? Piss off.

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