Migrants and Refugees Face an Invisible Trauma We Can ’t Ignore

In the wake of multiple legal challenges, the Biden Administration late last month aimed to fortify the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program with a new rule that would shield more than 600,000 undocumented people brought to the U.S. by their parents. While proponents of the program welcomed the move and heralded it an “effort to bulletproof the DACA program,” our response in this moment overlooks a fundamental problem: each challenge on immigration—whether the Muslim Ban, family separation, or challenging DACA—takes a toll on refugee and migrants through vicarious trauma and weathering, regardless of the outcome. [time-brightcove not-tgx=”true”] While we debate annual refugee caps, if Title 42 should be repealed and whether to welcome Haitian and Afghan refugees, each day migrants experience the trauma of instability. This additional trauma—often ignored because of other acute, pressing issues—has lasting physical and psychological health effects that we document in our refugee and migrant patients for decades. Understanding this often-invisible trauma is a vital component of recovery and rehabilitation. Shock experiments conducted in the 1980s in rats showed that when rats can control when they are subjected to pain, they develop tolerance to it. On the other hand, rats that have no control over when they are shocked become depressed, dejected, develop ulcers, lose weight and have compromised immune systems t...
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