CSU undergraduate student Alexiss Thomas' op-ed piece for Professor Browne's Public Anthropology course was published in The Greeley Tribune.

As appearing in The Tribune | March 12, 2018

by Alexiss Thomas

Alexiss ThomasExperiencing a disaster could negatively impact anyone; however, some populations are more at risk for these negative outcomes because of their history of past trauma and past disasters.

Not only are some populations more at risk, but they are also less likely to seek help after a disaster. It is important that we acknowledge and act on the fact that some populations need more help than "normal" after disasters.

One population that is at a high risk in Weld County is the Latino population, documented and undocumented. In Weld County 29.1 percent of residents identify as Hispanic or Latino. That percentage is higher than Colorado as a whole (21.3 percent), and much higher than the national average (17.8 percent), according to the United States Census Bureau in 2016. While the United States has been open to immigrants within its borders, the political climate has never been fully in favor of the Latino population, especially those who are undocumented. Those who come into this country undocumented have always feared deportation. The political state we are in now amplifies that fear. Residents are doubly affected when they are terrified of being deported and experience a disaster. The flood in Evans in 2013 is a prime example of an already at-risk population experiencing a horrible disaster. The flood affected the whole community, the Latino population included.

In early September of 2013 Evans flooded. As many as 1,000 people were displaced because of the flood. Hundreds of homes in the area were deemed unlivable; of those homes 203 were mobile homes that were completely destroyed. The mobile homes were destroyed and the mobile home parks, where the homes were placed, were deemed unusable. A month after the disaster the Denver Post published an article that explained there were 300 immigrants — who had lost their mobile homes — who still did not have housing. That is a substantial number of individuals to not have housing for a month, or more. Not only were their housing needs not being met, but I can almost guarantee you their mental health needs were not being met.

Many studies have been conducted to look at the correlation between negative mental health impacts and being undocumented or, the child of an undocumented parent. One study with 248 undocumented Mexican immigrants showed that 23 percent of them had met the criteria for at least one mental disorder. Including but not limited to major depressive disorder, panic disorder, and generalized anxiety disorder. In this specific study 14 percent of the participants had major depressive disorder, 7 percent had generalized anxiety disorder, and 8 percent suffered from panic disorder. It is important to note that these disorders are more prevalent in the Latino population studied than the general public in the United States.

When it comes to the children of undocumented parents, they have a higher risk of internalizing problems, having negative moods and negative emotions, than children whose parents have legal citizenship.

As we can see both undocumented parents and their children are more at risk of developing mental disorders than legal citizens. Unfortunately, they are less likely and less able to seek help, for mental suffering, following a disaster. That can be because they fear deportation, do not know where to go, or do not have enough money. Whatever the reason is we as a county need too support this vulnerable population, now and in their time of need.

Alexiss Thomas is a senior at Colorado State University majoring in social work. When she graduates in May she is looking to use her degree to help at-risk populations in northern Colorado.