Stressed to addiction

The ripple effects of Trump’s hostile immigration policies on public health are becoming clearer

A group for Spanish-speaking members of Al-Anon, which helps friends and relatives of people with substance problems, operates from this building in South Sacramento.

A group for Spanish-speaking members of Al-Anon, which helps friends and relatives of people with substance problems, operates from this building in South Sacramento.

Photo by Graham Womack

When Pete needs to ease his stress, the 29-year-old construction worker and DACA recipient sometimes goes salsa dancing.

Having come north from Tijuana at age 5, Pete said he knows as many as 15 people who have been deported. This includes four people since President Donald Trump's inauguration in January 2017, which unleashed a wave of increased harassment and stress for immigrants and those close to them.

With fluent English, a bright smile and quick laugh, Pete can perhaps duck the sort of hostility leveled at non-English speakers. But it's been nerve-wracking to watch the Trump administration's hardening to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy, which protected from deportation hundreds of thousands of immigrants brought to the country as children when President Barack Obama issued the executive order in 2012—and which Trump attempted to cancel months after taking office.

“It's a lot of uncertainty,” said Pete, who was working construction on a Midtown building and didn't provide his last name. “I was raised in this country. I consider this country like, ‘This is mine.' I was born in Mexico, but I'm an American just like everybody else. I don't know any other country but this country.”

The ripple effects of hostile immigration policies on public health are becoming clearer.

A study released in January by the International Journal of Drug Policy found that Latino people who knew someone who'd been detained or deported were 3.9 times more likely than whites to report symptoms of substance-use disorder.

“It's not just the folks that are affected [by being detained or deported] obviously,” said Jeannette Zanipatin, California director for the Drug Policy Alliance. “But it's also their family members and folks who have a loved one or someone they care about that may be impacted by the shift in immigration policy that we've seen in the past couple of years.”

The Wall Street Journal reported in December that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, had made roughly 143,000 arrests for the 2019 fiscal year, a 10% decline from the previous year and the lowest number under Trump.

But the federal government's decreased focus on undocumented immigrants with serious criminal convictions in favor of asylum-seekers and those with no criminal convictions means that more immigrants are locked up at any time since at least March 2015. And it remains remarkably common for Latinos to know someone who's been deported.

The IJDP study—which surveyed 3,446 white, black and Latino adult participants in April and May 2019—noted that 39% of Latino people “reported personally knowing a detained or deported migrant,” with 26% saying they had a family member deported, 43% a friend deported and 31% a coworker or community member deported.

The study found that whites, blacks and Latinos had the same rate of hazardous drinking (48%), though rates spiked for Latinos who said they knew someone who'd been detained or deported, with the highest rate of hazardous drinking being 66% for Latinos who had a friend deported.

“This study shows how callous immigration policies have devastating effects, not only for deportees, but also for the friends and family they are forced to leave behind,” Sameera Hafiz, the Immigration Legal Resource Center's policy director, said in a statement provided by the Drug Policy Alliance.

Those close to Pete who he said have been deported include a friend and his uncle. The wave of deportations haven't affected his drinking, but they have done a number on his mental well-being.

“It's nerve-wracking, cause you don't know what's next,” he said. “You don't know [when] the immigration laws are going to change.”

Case in point: It was only this past September—and only because of a federal court order—that the Trump administration resumed accepting DACA requests.

Sometimes, it doesn't take much for the deportations either. Juan Cartagena, president and general counsel for LatinoJustice, noted in the Drug Policy Alliance's statement that “drug possession, especially marijuana possession, continues to drive deportation rates unnecessarily and discriminatorily.”

Zanipatin said people will also sometimes sign voluntary removal orders to escape harsh confinement—which can last years.

There has been some encouraging news for migrants, including a three-judge panel in the Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ruling Feb. 28 that a Trump administration policy to force asylum seekers to remain in Mexico during their proceedings was unjust.

State and local lawmakers have also been active in their opposition to Trump's immigration actions.

California has pushed back perhaps most famously with Senate Bill 54, also known as the California Values Act, which was signed into law in October 2017 and essentially prohibits state and local law enforcement from working with federal authorities on most deportations.

Sacramento has been among those to designate itself a sanctuary city for immigrants, with Mayor Darrell Steinberg saying in a 2018 statement that the movement “is about protecting Dreamers, and families, and hard-working people who just want to be part of the California dream.”

Pete would like that understood as well.

“People that are here illegally are here to work,” Pete said. “They're not here to steal from anybody. I'm not saying everybody's good. But they're here to work and they're here to contribute to the economy. Also, illegals pay taxes and get nothing in return for it. And they're not allowed to get any state help or any federal help.”

One thing's clear: The uncertainty doesn't appear poised to end any time soon. Zanipatin noted the recent announcement by ICE that it would target sanctuary cities for enforcement by elite tactical teams.