APA Initiatives on Immigration and Related Issues

Over a Decade of Education, Outreach and Advocacy

Psychologists are ethically guided to “respect the fundamental rights, dignity, and worth of all people,” and we are committed to improving the conditions of individuals, groups, and society as a whole. As such, the American Psychological Association (APA) has long supported research and policy opposing discrimination and racial/ethnic prejudice. As early as 1950, APA adopted its first policy opposing discrimination based on race and religion. Since that time, the association has adopted numerous policies opposing discrimination that highlight the research showing its deleterious effects. We have adopted policies condemning “expressing prejudice, employing stereotypes, and engaging in discrimination in all their forms” (APA, 2006).

Psychological research has documented the unique stresses related to acculturation and trauma that are encountered by many immigrants and their families. Prejudice and discrimination at both the individual and institutional level have adverse cognitive, affective and behavioral effects for victims of discrimination, particularly those who are members of stigmatized groups. Our research has also shown that the ways in which people react to racial/ethnic differences may reveal racial/ethnic biases; the responses to which can “operate without conscious intervention or awareness” (APA, 2001). Thus APA policies on racial/ethnic profiling call for increased research on how it can affect individuals, communities of color, and law enforcement, as well as the development of strong community-police relationships and programs to help recognize and overcome this practice. 

APA will continue to advocate for increased research to better our understanding of the deleterious effects of prejudice, stereotypes and discrimination upon both victims and perpetrators, and to help develop interventions to counteract them. To further this effort, APA's President-elect Melba Vasquez, PhD, established an APA Presidential Task Force to review the psychological literature related to the experience of immigration and its impact on society, with particular attention to the effects of immigration policy (such as the recent law passed in Arizona) on individuals and society. The empirically-based conclusions and recommendations of this task force will then be used to inform the development of immigration-related policy at both the state and federal level.

The following is a short, but not exhaustive, list of APA policy statements and activities on immigration-related issues, discrimination, racial/ethnic profiling and related subjects:

Resolutions Addressing Immigration and Related Issues

Sustained Outreach Efforts to Broadly Disseminate Psychological Science on Immigration and Related Issues

  • In September 2010, APA’s Monitor on Psychology included two articles related to immigration.  The first was a Public Interest Government Relations Office (PI-GRO) overview of a recent congressional hearing at which APA testified and recent meetings with key congressional offices on immigration issues.  In addition, this issue included a story titled, “Deciding who belongs: Arizona's immigration law will harm police-community relations and increase stereotyping and prejudice, psychologists say.” 

  • On May 20, 2010, APA’s Publications and Member Communications Office issued Implicit bias may make evenhanded application of the new immigration law impossible. In this press release distributed widely to media outlets, social psychologist John Dovidio, PhD, of Yale University, answered questions about the influence of explicit and implicit bias in the context of Arizona’s new immigration law (S.B. 1070), and also commented on Arizona’s new ethnic studies law (H.B. 2281). 

  • In response to numerous media requests, APA’s Publications and Member Communications Office has supplied names of expert psychologists on the psychological issues raised by Arizona’s immigration and ethnic studies laws.

  • In May 2010, APA’s Office of General Counsel provided expert resources, based on APA’s prior appellate amicus briefs regarding the body of research on discrimination and its effects, to a group of organizations, including the American Civil Liberties Union, the Asian Pacific American Legal Center Immigrant Rights Project and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, for a class action challenging S.B. 1070.

  • On May 3, 2010, APA issued a press release titled Young Latino children show strong classroom skills, despite many growing up in poverty, reporting on a special section of the APA journal, Developmental Psychology, devoted to research on how strong parenting practices among immigrant Latinos shape children’s social and cognitive growth and their assimilation into mainstream culture.

  • The April 2010 issue of Communiqué, released by APA’s Office of Ethnic and Minority Affairs, featured a commentary by J. Manuel Casas, PhD, Professor Emeritus at the University of California, Santa Barbara, titled Confronting immigration challenges in a nation of immigrants: A call for APA action. Dr. Casas’ commentary discussed the lack of mental health resources for the immigrant population resulting in part from the overemphasis on immigration as a political and/or economic issue, and provided related recommendations for APA action.  

  • The Fall 2009 issue of CYFNews (PDF, 1.4 MB), released by APA’s Children, Youth and Families Office, featured topics relevant to immigrant and refugee children, youth and families, including resettlement stresses, acculturation, resilience in the face of adversity, cultural competence and sensitivity, and the impact of immigration policy.

Advocacy Efforts Addressing Immigration and Related Issues

  • APA’s PI-GRO provides policymakers with resources regarding the mental and behavioral health of immigrants and their families, racial profiling, and trauma and stigma experienced by immigrants. 

  • Over the last few months, PI-GRO has responded to congressional inquiries regarding Arizona’s new immigration law. PI-GRO staff have met with key congressional staff to discuss the mental and behavioral health of immigrants and their families and shared relevant APA resolutions, fact sheets, and other psychological resources. 

  • In September 2010, APA President-elect Melba Vasquez moderated the Mental Health Summit at the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute’s Public Policy Conference, which highlighted numerous issues relating to the immigrant experience including acculturation and the need for increased mental health services for vulnerable populations.

  • In July 2010, PI-GRO secured the participation of APA Member Carola Suarez-Orozco, PhD, at an ad-hoc hearing in the U.S. House of Representatives titled, “In the Best Interest of Our Children: Examining Our Immigration Enforcement Policy.”

  • In May 2010, PI-GRO conducted an extensive literature search on racial profiling, mental health concerns facing recent immigrants, stigmatization of immigrants, family reunification trauma, and the effects of the detention/deportation processes on immigrants and their families. PI-GRO also assembled a select bibliography of recent psychological publications on these issues.

  • PI-GRO staff met with key Senate committee staff to discuss the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (D.R.E.A.M.) Act (S. 729), which would provide certain immigrant students who graduate from U.S. high schools the opportunity to earn conditional permanent residency. 

  • In November 2009, PI-GRO secured the participation of APA member J. Manuel Casas, PhD, at a congressional briefing on the “Impact of Immigration Policy on Children.” Dr. Casas discussed the traumatic impacts our nation’s immigration system can have on immigrant children and youth, including issues such as posttraumatic stress disorder, depression, and sleep disorders. 

  • In March 2009, PI-GRO delivered a fact sheet titled “The Impact of Immigration and Customs Enforcement Raids on Children and Families” to congressional staff and other public policy officials.

  • In March 2009, PI-GRO distributed testimony at a hearing on the Uniting American Families Act of 2009 (H.R. 1024/S. 424), which would grant binational same-sex couples equal treatment under immigration laws by allowing them to sponsor their partner for immigration purposes.

  • In October 2008, APA’s monthly magazine, the Monitor on Psychology, featured “The Costs of Crackdowns,” on the trauma immigrant families endure when targeted for immigration raids. 

  • PI-GRO worked in support of the 2008 passage of the SSI Extension for Elderly and Disabled Refugees Act (P.L. 110-328), which provides extended eligibility for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits to refugees, asylum seekers and certain other humanitarian immigrants who are older adults or living with disabilities. 

  • Over the last few years, PI-GRO has reviewed language from the Secure and Safe Detention and Asylum Act (S. 1594) and met with key congressional staff to discuss the legislation.  This bill would require additional mental health services and special consideration and treatment for refugees and asylum seekers who have experienced trauma.

APA will continue to build upon this strong foundation of work on immigration-related issues in advocating for increased research to better our understanding of the consequences of prejudice, stereotypes, and discrimination from a psychological perspective and to guide policy development in this critical area.