Vasquez talks immigration, mental health

Adam Sodders

Moving to a different country with a different culture is often a difficult process, and it can affect a person’s mental health.

Dr. Linda Vasquez, president of the American Psychological Association, spoke about immigration and mental health Thursday night in the Sun Room of the Memorial Union.

“Many believe xenophobia is what fuels anti-immigration legislation,” Vasquez said of the fear of people from other countries. 

She believes many negative stereotypes and myths about immigration, especially illegal immigration, have spread throughout the collective American psyche.

Vasquez argued about a specific group of beliefs about immigration. The supposed “reluctance of immigrants to learn English” was one of the myths. Vasquez presented statistics showing how the number of immigrants learning English in the U.S. is higher than ever. She also said many second- and third-generation Latino/a immigrants are “losing their parents’ native language.”

Vasquez also disagrees with the idea that immigrants take jobs away from U.S. citizens. In fact, she said most immigrants get jobs that “complement” Americans’ jobs. The majority of immigrant workers are over-represented at the extreme high and low ends of the labor market.

Criminality among Latino communities was the final myth combated by Vasquez. She said Latinos were actually one of the largest targets for crime and violence, and they did not cause violence and crime as often as other groups.

Most attendees appeared to listen intently to Vasquez. Many of the people present were ISU students.

“I’ve never learned the psychology of immigrants, let alone thought about [the psychology of immigrants] before this lecture,” said Katherine Kasper, sophomore in public relations. “The U.S. needs to find a better way to handle immigration.”

Kasper was glad the stories and hardships of immigrants were being talked about and noticed.

Vasquez made a point to talk about anti-immigration legislation. In her home state of Texas, more than 100 bills have been proposed in the state legislature to limit immigration opportunities.

In 1982, the Supreme Court said all children in the U.S. have a right to attend school. However, Texas schools have been accused of asking personal information of children and families, such as immigrant status. This activity, Vasquez said, is illegal.

Vasquez spoke about different generations of Latino immigrants in the U.S. They were divided up into first-, second- and third-generation categories. With each consecutive generation, English proficiency improved and assimilation into U.S. life and culture became more pronounced.

When asked by an audience member what generation she was a part of, Vasquez said her family had been in Texas “since back when it was part of Mexico.” Therefore, she said, “I don’t know what generation I am considered to be in.”

On mental health, Vasquez said there were obvious stressors that many immigrants, both legal and undocumented, deal with. Many are aware of the negative stereotypes about Latino immigrants, and it can affect them negatively.

Vasquez said mental health issues in Latino immigrants often include “anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder in refugees, substance abuse and even suicidal ideation.”

Despite odds often stacked against them, Vasquez said Latino/a schoolchildren outperform their non-immigrant counterparts in standardized tests and have comparatively higher school attendance rates.

“I really liked the presentation, especially the parts about debunking the myths of immigrants,” said Pattie Richers, junior in Linguistics. “I think that it’s really important for people to be aware of these [myths] and know the facts.”

Vasquez had recommendations for improving the lives of immigrants in the U.S., and for how immigration policy could be improved. Specifically, Vasquez wanted to make clear how damaging racial discrimination can be to immigrants’ mental health, and how U.S. society needs to see how important immigrants have been and continue to be to the nation.

“We have to engage in advocacy when talking about immigrants and their mental health,” Vasquez said.