Louisville pediatrician seeing signs of toxic stress associated with increased deportations

04/27/2017 05:31 PM

LOUISVILLE — With a more aggressive approach to enforcing immigration from the federal government, families have become fearful for their future together, and the anxiety has health care professionals concerned.

Dr. Julia Richerson, a pediatrician who sees patients full-time in Louisville and serves on the state chapter and in a national role for the American Academy of Pediatrics, says parents and children face serious health challenges associated with the fear and reality of deportation raids.

“It’s a horrible stress for a family to have to live with every day. It affects your ability to parent because you’re in this constant state of panic,” Richerson said.

The Louisville doctor says this is not the garden-variety stress we all deal with from time to time, but rather something much more acute.

“This is extreme stress,” she said. “This is the same level of stress as the death of a parent, but it’s complicated by the fear of the unknown. So if a parent has not been detained or deported, they’re worrying about it. It’s that constant fear that any second somebody could knock on the door.”

A recent report from the American Academy of Pediatrics delves into the lifelong effects of childhood exposure to what’s now known as toxic stress.

“We know a lot more about the biology of stress than we used to,” she said. “Now we know at all ages, but especially in young children and teenagers during periods of rapid brain growth, it actually causes permanent changes to the brain architecture and the brain function, and those things we’re learning more lead to long term adult issues, both physical and mental health.”

Some of the risks Richerson said the health community sees later in life include an increased risk for cancer, increased risk of diabetes and heart disease, and an increased risk of depression and other behavioral health issues. Those behavioral issues lead to decreases in activity and increases in smoking, alcoholism, drug use and missed work.

An added stressor for youth is wondering what will happen to them if one or both of their parents are deported or detained.

Duffy Trager with Russell Immigration Law in Louisville said in some instances immigration officials known as ICE are choosing which parents to deport.

“We are seeing that where ICE is making the decision that if you have two undocumented parents they’re taking one of those individuals — it does seem like it’s the man primarily,” Trager told Spectrum News. “I guess the rationale is that if a female can remain in the United States she can care for the family. Nevertheless they are taking the father away, and often times he is the primary bread winner, if not the exclusive breadwinner.”

For those in the system and with fear of entering the system, there could be no end in sight, Trager said. The United States currently has the capacity to detain 41,000 people per day as of Jan. 1, and there are around 500,000 cases in the immigration court system with few immigration judges, Trager said.

Spectrum News reached out to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement for an interview regarding this subject. A regional representative requested our questions be submitted in advanced. Our policy is to never provide questions in advance, but we offered topics instead. We never heard back from those officials despite numerous attempts at contact.


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