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In the recent decade, changes in immigration patterns to the U.S. have included increases of immigrants from South and Central America, with a surge of Latino immigrants arriving from Venezuela and Guatemala (Noe-Bustamante, 2019). Despite the political,  economic, and criminal unrest in their countries of origin, many of these immigrants arrive to the U.S. in hopes of finding political sanctuary and economic opportunity (Clauss-Ehlers, 2019). Yet, after arriving to the U.S., recent Latino immigrants (RLIs) must cope with the unwelcoming rhetoric on immigration and limited immigration policies that provide support for the transition of newly arrived Latino immigrants into American society (Ornelas, Yamanis & Ruiz, 2020). Given the pre-migration trauma and stress that RLIs experience in their countries of origin, they become structurally vulnerable to the stressors they are exposed to in the U.S. These post-immigration stressors including experiences of discrimination, fears associated to their immigration status, language difficulties, and lack of access to health care further exacerbate the adverse mental health disparities among RLIs (Alegria, Alvarez & Dimarzio, 2017). Findings among Latino immigrants show that these transnational stressors make them particularly susceptible to depressive symptoms (Jannesari, Hatch, Prina & Oram, 2020). Among young adults in the U.S., the risk for these disparate outcomes is even higher while in a maturational stage that is heavily influenced by conditions in their socio-environment such as changing socio-cultural norms (Schubert et al., 2017).
Much of the research on depressive symptoms among Latino immigrants has demonstrated the heterogeneity of outcomes based on gender and documentation status (Alegria, Alvarez, & Dimarzio, 2017). However, there is still a need for research that disentangles the subgroup differences in outcomes of depressive symptoms with consideration of recency of arrival and pre-migration experiences which can vary based on country of origin. In our study (Vazquez et al., 2021), we set out to examine how pre-migration stress/trauma and post-immigration stress impacted depressive symptoms among a diverse group of young adult RLIs residing in South Florida (SFL) during their first year in the U.S. Our findings revealed that a substantial portion of RLIs met the clinical criteria for being at risk for clinical depression (67%). Most of the RLIs were from Venezuela (29.3%) and other South American (33.3%) countries followed by Central America/Mexico (26.7%) and the Caribbean (10.6%). Although a high percentage of RLIs reported exposure to pre-migration trauma due to violence (67%), pre-migration trauma/stress was significantly associated with their depressive symptoms, while post-immigration stress was. It appeared that the more recent sources of post-immigration stress due to documentation status and fear of deportation, discrimination, and lack of access to health care were influencing their depressive symptoms. Indeed, our findings support previous evidence indicating the impact that greater immigration-related stress has on greater depressive symptoms, but our study focused on a more diverse newly arrived group of young adult RLIs in SFL. Notably, our findings showed the interactive effect that country of origin has on the relationship between post-immigration stress and depressive symptoms. RLIs who reported being from Venezuela, other South American countries, and Central America/Mexico reported a stronger positive association between post-immigration stress and depressive symptoms compared to RLIs from the Caribbean. These differences by country/region of origin may exist due to the fact that Cuban RLIs are less likely to report forced migration compared to RLIs from Venezuela and other South/Central American countries (Claus-Ehlers, 2019).

 Our study results suggest the potential value of the development of community-based health services implemented early in the immigration process that provide structural and community support to reduce immigration stressors and potentially mitigate depressive symptoms among RLIs. From a humanitarian perspective, modernized human-centered immigration policies are needed that reflect the current demographic shifts of RLIs to the U.S. to reduce the structural and social barriers they are faced with. As a collective, Americans have a moral imperative to uphold values of inclusivity and repeal anti-immigrant laws that persist in our institutions… for they never truly represented the American values of opportunity and freedom.  
Research reported in this blog was supported by the NIMHD (S21MD010683) and the NIAAA (R01AA025720). The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the NIH.

Target Article

Vazquez, V., Rojas, P., Cano, M. Á., De La Rosa, M., Romano, E., & Sánchez, M. (2021). Depressive symptoms among recent Latinx immigrants in South Florida: The role of premigration trauma and stress, postimmigration stress, and genderJournal of traumatic stress.

Discussion Questions

  1. Our findings showed that a substantial number of RLIs in our study reported pre-migration trauma due to violence in their countries of origin. What additional subtypes of trauma do you think should be considered among RLIs to the U.S.? 
  2. What emerging post-immigration barriers do you think are important to assess among RLIs with depressive symptoms? 
  3. How do you think the current legislation on immigration can be reformed to better address the structural barriers that RLIs are facing upon arrival to the U.S.? 

About the Authors

Vicky Vazquez is an NIH-NIAAA National Research Service Award (NRSA) Fellow in the Department of Health Promotion & Disease Prevention (HPDP) at the Robert Stempel College of Public Health and Social Work of the Florida International University (FIU). Her research focuses on identifying and addressing the structural and social barriers that influence co-occurring substance use and mental health challenges among marginalized communities, particularly among Latino immigrants. 
Mariana Sanchez, PhD is an Associate Professor in the Department of Health Promotion & Disease Prevention (HPDP) and Program Director of the Health Disparities Concentration at the Robert Stempel College of Public Health and Social Work of the Florida International University (FIU). Her research focuses on health disparities, cultural adaptions, culturally tailored evidence-based health promotion interventions, and socio-cultural determinants of alcohol use and HIV risk behaviors.
Patria Rojas, PhD is an Associate Professor in the Department of Health Promotion & Disease Prevention (HPDP) at the Robert Stempel College of Public Health and Social Work of the Florida International University (FIU). Her research focuses on Latino health behaviors, health disparities, and HIV/AIDS. 

References Cited

Alegría, M., Álvarez, K., & Dimarzio, K. (2017). Immigration and mental health. Current Epidemiology Reports, 4(2), 145–155. doi: 10.1007/s40471-017-0111-2
Clauss-Ehlers, C. S. (2019). Forced migration among Latinx children and their families: Introducing trilateral migration trauma as a concept to reflect a forced migratory experience. Journal of Infant, Child, and Adolescent Psychotherapy, 1-13. https://doi.org/10.1080/15289168.2019.1686742
Jannesari, S., Hatch, S., Prina, M., & Oram, S., (2020). Post-migration social–environmental factors associated with mental health problems among asylum seekers: A systematic review. Journal of Immigrant Minority Health 22, 1055–1064. DOI: 10.1007/s10903-020-01025-2
Noe-Bustamante, L. (2019, September 16). Key facts about U.S. Hispanics and their diverse heritage. https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2019/09/16/key-facts-about-u-s-hispanics/
Ornelas, I. J., Yamanis, T. J., & Ruiz, R. A. (2020). The health of undocumented Latinx immigrants: What we know and future directions. Annual Review of Public Health, 41(1), 289-308. doi:10.1146/annurev-publhealth-040119-094211
Schubert, K. O., Clark, S. R., Van, L. K., Collinson, J. L., & Baune, B. T. (2017). Depressive symptom trajectories in late adolescence and early adulthood: A systematic review. Australian & New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, 51(5), 477–499. https://doi.org/10.1177/0004867417700274