The rapidly changing immigrant landscape in the United States signals a dire need for more research focusing on mental health concerns of undocumented Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) populations. Asian American population is the fastest growing racial group in the U.S., growing by 43% between 2000 and 2010. This rapid growth is fueled primarily by immigration, with over a quarter of all immigrants to the U.S. coming from Asia in the recent years. However, not all immigrants of Asia have documentation. In fact, there are an estimated 1.3 million undocumented immigrants from Asia in the United States. In 2011, Asian immigrants made up 11% of the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States (The Benefits of Commonsense Immigration Reform: Asian American Immigrant and Refugee Communities). There are an estimated 416,000 Asian undocumented immigrants in California, or roughly 15% of the state’s undocumented population (NAMI, 2011). Three states with some of the largest Asian American populations are also home to the largest undocumented populations: California, New York, and Texas (Migration Policy Institute, 2010). Asian American communities are significantly impacted by the U.S. immigration policies and are invested in immigration reform.
Psychological research has pointed to many risk factors associated with immigration that impact mental health. Undocumented immigrants tend to have even higher risk factors that compromise their mental health and ability to cope with the stress of adjustment to a new culture than immigrants who come through authorized channels. For example, undocumented immigrants – like many other immigrants from other regions – are motivated to migrate because of poverty, religious or political persecution, exploitation, violence, war, or torture in their home country. Their journey from Asia to the U.S. is often filled with risks and trauma. There are additional hardships for undocumented immigrants and their families as their undocumented status make them vulnerable to exploitation by employers (Asian American Justice Center). Constant fear of deportation may cause stress, anxiety, and depression, as well as separation from their family and social support network and the stress of earning money they owe to the traffickers who transported them to the U.S. and to send remittances to their loved ones. Research has shown that a lack of pathways for citizenship for undocumented parents harms their children’s cognitive and language development (Yoshikawa, 2011).
Despite these general risk factors and challenges that contribute to the enormous psychological stress on undocumented immigrants and their families, there is virtually no research on the psychological experiences and mental health of undocumented AAPI populations. AAPA calls for increased funding for mental health research on this invisible segment of our community.
** Special thanks to the AAPA Policy Committee, especially Dr. Helen Hsu & Dr. Devika Srivastava, and to the AAPA Executive Committee