Actions against immigrants leading to increased toxic stress among young Americans

Written by: Erin Miller
Date Posted: May 18, 2018

A number of recent actions taken by the Trump Administration may be creating increased levels of toxic stress among American children, according to a new report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Toxic stress can impact children’s brain development in ways that affect their school performance, health and earnings in adulthood.

For example, the Administration’s recent announcements that it will end Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for about 390,000 immigrants from Central America, Haiti, Nepal and Sudan will impact more than 273,000 U.S.-born citizen children whose parents are TPS recipients. TPS is a program for foreign nationals who have been unable to return to their homelands due to unsafe conditions or the inability of their native countries to accept the return of their nationals. Hundreds of thousands of American children will be forced to either leave the U.S. with their parents to return to unsafe conditions or will be separated from their parents.

Early childhood is a particularly sensitive period of brain development when toxic stress can have significant adverse impacts. In response to the first of these administrative actions on immigration in early 2017, the American Academy of Pediatrics stated, “when children are scared, it can impact their health and development. Indeed, fear and stress, particularly prolonged exposure to serious stress—known as toxic stress—can harm the developing brain and negatively impact short- and long-term health.”

Pregnancy is also a sensitive period of development, and one study of the impact of a large immigration raid in Iowa showed that the raid was associated with Latina mothers in the area delivering babies with low birthweights, regardless of their own immigration status. As we have discussed in our annual KIDS COUNT in Colorado! report, heightened stress levels can affect stress hormones in pregnancy that can trigger premature birth or lead to growth restriction, low birthweight and other poor outcomes for infants. For resources on protecting immigrant families and to join a listserv to stay-up-to-date on these issues, please click here.

Erin Miller

About Erin Miller

Erin leads the health policy work of the Colorado Children’s Campaign to improve health insurance coverage and quality for Colorado’s kids, expand access to health services for Colorado families, and ensure that every child has healthy places to live, learn and play. She has led policy initiatives to strengthen the state’s Maternal Mortality Review Committee, improve access to school lunches, expand access to family planning services and oral health care, and improve pregnancy-related behavioral health. Her professional experiences include service as a WIC Educator and Local Area Retail Coordinator, a Special Assistant in the HHS Office of Planning and Evaluation, a Health Policy Adviser and Budget Analyst for the U.S. House Budget Committee and working with stakeholders in the Colorado Medicaid Program.