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US Immigration Policy Stressors and Latinx Youth Mental Health.

JAMA Pediatrics 2024 May 14
IMPORTANCE: The youth mental health crisis is exacerbated for Latinx adolescents, a group whose families are targets of anti-immigrant rhetoric and policy.

OBJECTIVE: To investigate how immigration-related stressors are associated with disruptions in parent-child relationships and, in turn, the mental health symptoms of Latinx adolescents.

DESIGN, SETTING, AND PARTICIPANTS: Data for this prospective cohort study of adolescent-mother dyads were derived from surveys completed at 3 time points spanning 4 years (time 1 [T1] in 2018, time 2 [T2] in 2020, and time 3 [T3] in 2022). Mediation analyses estimated paths from immigration-related stressors to parent-child relationship qualities to mental health symptoms from early to late adolescence. Multivariable and multivariate linear models within a structural equation modeling framework regressed mediators and outcome variables on their own T1 values, offering a scientifically rigorous test of mediation. The setting was a school district in suburban Atlanta, Georgia, and included Latinx adolescents (ages 11-16 years) randomly selected from grade and gender strata. Data were analyzed from June 2023 to March 2024.

EXPOSURES: The primary independent variables were T1 mother reports of anti-immigrant worry and behavioral modification and adolescent reports of family member detention or deportation. Mediating variables were the reports of parental support and parent-child conflict of T2 adolescents.

MAIN OUTCOMES AND MEASURES: T3 adolescent reports of past 6-month internalizing and externalizing symptoms.

RESULTS: A total of 547 Latinx adolescents (mean [SD] age, 13.3 [1.0] years; 303 female [55.4%]; 244 male [44.6%]) were included in this study. Response rates were 65.2% (547 of 839) among contacted parents and 95.3% (547 of 574) among contacted adolescents with parental permission. Four-year retention rates were 67% (366 of 547 adolescents) and 65% (177 of 271 mothers). Structural model results showed that T1 anti-immigrant worry and behavioral modification was associated with T3 increases in externalizing symptoms indirectly through T1 to T2 increases in parent-child conflict (β = 0.03; SE = 0.02; 95% CI, 0-0.08). For girls, T1 family member deportation or detention was associated with T1 to T3 increases in internalizing and externalizing symptoms indirectly through T1 to T2 declines in parental support (internalizing: β = 0.04; SE = 0.02; 95% CI, 0-0.08; externalizing: β = 0.03; SE = 0.02; 95% CI, 0-0.07). Sensitivity analyses supported structural model findings.

CONCLUSION AND RELEVANCE: Results of this cohort study suggest that legislative bodies, the health care system, and educational institutions should implement safeguards to mitigate potential harm conferred by anti-immigrant environments for parent-child relationships and, in turn, Latinx adolescents' mental health.

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