U.S. immigration policies may put Hispanic teens’ mental and physical health at risk, researchers say.

Of 547 U.S.-born Hispanic kids surveyed in Atlanta, one-quarter had a parent, aunt, uncle or other family member who was detained or deported in 2017 or 2018. Participants were questioned twice, six months apart.

Compared to other middle school- and high school-aged youth, those with a detained or deported family member had more than twice the risk of suicidal thoughts. They also were nearly three times more likely to report early alcohol use, and were also more likely to have engaged in risky behaviors, such as aggression or truancy.

“This study found that among kids with a deportation or detention in the family, 28% later reported thinking of killing themselves sometimes or often; 18% said they had consumed alcohol and 23% had engaged in a high level of risky behavior,” said study author Kathleen Roche. She’s an associate professor of prevention and community health at George Washington University, in Washington, D.C.

“The findings are worrisome because these kinds of risks during the early teen years often result in problems well into adulthood,” she added in a university news release.

The study was published March 16 in the journal JAMA Pediatrics.

“Our study offers the first direct scientific evidence indicating that current U.S. immigration policies might contribute to serious mental and behavioral health risks for [Latino/Latina] youth,” Roche said.

“A deportation or detention in the family may put these young people, most of whom are U.S. citizens, at risk of serious health problems and a downward trajectory that could be hard to reverse,” she warned.

Roche noted that teens engage in risky behaviors and have suicidal thoughts for reasons other than having family members detained or deported, so this one study can’t prove that current U.S. immigration policies are harming Hispanic youth.

But even after controlling for factors such as the quality of parent-child relationships and risky behavior reported at the study’s start, there was a strong link with deportation or detention of a family member and the threat of serious behavior, mental health and social problems, she added.

More information

The American Academy of Pediatrics has more on teens and mental health.