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Original Investigation
March 16, 2020

Association of Family Member Detention or Deportation With Latino or Latina Adolescents’ Later Risks of Suicidal Ideation, Alcohol Use, and Externalizing Problems

Author Affiliations
  • 1Department of Prevention and Community Health, Milken Institute School of Public Health, George Washington University, Washington, DC
  • 2The T. Denny Sanford School of Social and Family Dynamics, Arizona State University, Tempe
  • 3Department of Psychology, George Washington University, Washington, DC
  • 4Institute of Social Research, Department of Psychology, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor
  • 5Steve Hicks School of Social Work, University of Texas at Austin
  • 6Department of Psychology, Georgia State University, Atlanta
  • 7Educational Psychology and Leadership Department, College of Education, Texas Tech University, Lubbock
  • 8Optentia Research Focus Area, North-West University, Vanderbijlpark, South Africa
JAMA Pediatr. Published online March 16, 2020. doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2020.0014
Key Points

Question  Is the detention or deportation of a family member associated with later suicidal ideation, alcohol use, and clinically significant externalizing behaviors among Latino or Latina adolescents?

Findings  In this survey study of 547 Latino or Latina adolescents aged 11 to 16 years, family member detention or deportation occurring during the prior 12 months was associated with significantly higher odds of suicidal ideation in the past 6 months, alcohol use since the prior survey, and a clinical level of externalizing symptoms at the 6-month follow-up survey, controlling for adolescents’ initial mental health and risk behaviors.

Meaning  Current immigration policies may be associated with increased risks for outcomes threatening the health of Latino or Latina adolescents.

Abstract

Importance  Policy changes since early 2017 have resulted in a substantial expansion of Latino or Latina immigrants prioritized for deportation and detention. Professional organizations, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Medical Association, and Society for Research in Child Development, have raised concerns about the potentially irreversible mental health effects of deportations and detentions on Latino or Latina youths.

Objective  To examine how family member detention or deportation is associated with Latino or Latina adolescents’ later mental health problems and risk behaviors.

Design, Setting, and Participants  Survey data were collected between February 14 and April 26, 2018, and between September 17, 2018, and January 13, 2019, and at a 6-month follow-up from 547 Latino or Latina adolescents who were randomly selected from grade and sex strata in middle schools in a suburban Atlanta, Georgia, school district. Prospective data were analyzed using multivariable, multivariate logistic models within a structural equation modeling framework. Models examined how family member detention or deportation within the prior 12 months was associated with later changes in suicidal ideation, alcohol use, and clinical externalizing symptoms, controlling for initial mental health and risk behaviors.

Exposure  Past-year family member detention or deportation.

Main Outcomes and Measures  Follow-up reports of suicidal ideation in the past 6 months, alcohol use since the prior survey, and clinical level of externalizing symptoms in the past 6 months.

Results  A total of 547 adolescents (303 girls; mean [SD] age, 12.8 [1.0] years) participated in this prospective survey. Response rates were 65.2% (547 of 839) among contacted parents and 95.3% (547 of 574) among contacted adolescents whose parents provided permission. The 6-month follow-up retention rate was 81.5% (446 of 547). A total of 136 adolescents (24.9%) had a family member detained or deported in the prior year. Family member detention or deportation was associated with higher odds of suicidal ideation (38 of 136 [27.9%] vs 66 of 411 [16.1%]; adjusted odds ratio, 2.37; 95% CI, 1.06-5.29), alcohol use (25 of 136 [18.4%] vs 30 of 411 [7.3%]; adjusted odds ratio, 2.98; 95% CI, 1.26-7.04), and clinical externalizing behaviors (31 of 136 [22.8%] vs 47 of 411 [11.4%]; adjusted odds ratio, 2.76; 95% CI, 1.11-6.84) at follow-up, controlling for baseline variables.

Conclusion and Relevance  This study suggests that recent immigration policy changes may be associated with critical outcomes jeopardizing the health of Latino or Latina adolescents. Since 95% of US Latino or Latina adolescents are citizens, compromised mental health and risk behavior tied to family member detention or deportation raises concerns regarding the association of current immigration policies with the mental health of Latino and Latina adolescents in the United States.

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