Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Living a Nightmare

Living a Nightmare

Desperate and hopeless Joaquin Luna Jr. took his own life.  He dreamed of someday becoming either an engineer or an architect.  Joaquin will never live that dream.  Yanelli Hernandez was deported to Mexico yesterday.  Like Joaquin, she also had dreams, but she suffered from depression and a serious mental illness that resulted in her attempting to commit suicide while facing imminent removal from the United States.  ICE denied an emergency stay of removal citing lack of evidence of her mental illness.  The response from ICE begs the question of how many undocumented persons suffer from mental illness or depression but are not receiving much needed treatment or medication.  

 The memorandum by Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director John Morton, Exercising Prosecutorial Discretion Consistent with the Priorities of the Agency for the Apprehension, Detention, and Removal of Aliens (aka the Prosecutorial Discretion memo), listed 19 factors to that an ICE agent may consider when weighing whether he should exercise prosecutorial discretion and, in some cases, grant a stay of removal.  The list is not exhaustive and no one factor is determinative.  One of the factors listed is if the person suffers from a severe mental illness.  While I’m not a doctor or psychologist, I would venture to guess that many people with depression keep their emotions pent up.  The National Institute of Mental Health estimates that 9.5% of the adult American population suffers from depressive disorder.  That statistic doesn’t consider people like Joaquin or Yanelli.

So, imagine if you are in a country where you have an uncertain future.  You want to achieve and make a better life for yourself and your parents, but you are not sure if you can even go to college or join the military.  You cannot leave the U.S. because there is a high risk of facing long-term or permanent separation from family and friends.  For many undocumented persons, they came to the U.S. at a young age and know only this country (“DREAMers”). Finally, to compound your problems, you can’t even trust the two largest political parties in this country.  Note to Republican and Democratic parties: we know that all you care about is wooing future potential voters, but perhaps you could be a bit more discreet and attempt to show some compassion for humans rather than your own political future.

This dilemma is as much a mental health problem as it is an immigration problem.  Every time a politician, on either side of the aisle, makes a promise or a proposal to work on the immigration problem they are toying with the emotions of millions.  Some of the most vulnerable are those DREAMers who have spent most of their lives in the U.S. and consider this their country.  The constant tug of war by politicians, combined with the normal stresses of daily life, is a recipe for more mental troubles. 

My father always told me that you can make lemonade out of lemons, and this is another situation where that can be done.  One positive that we can take away from the plight of Joaquin and Yanelli is that it has further galvanized the DREAMer population and placed a spotlight on the often unaddressed problem of mental illness.  In fact, on Monday, Cindy Padilla from the U.S. Health and Human Services, stated that she will be taking this issue back to D.C. and further explore it.  There is even a great online resource available for those individuals who want more information or need help: http://undocuhealth.org/.

It is unnerving that many (including stars like Oprah Winfrey) in this country ignore the pink elephant in the room when it comes to the plight of undocumented immigrants, and especially DREAMers.  With more consideration as to the benefits of legalizing undocumented immigrants and less overall negativity, perhaps we can help many who suffer from mental illness and depression.  

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