In the Public Interest

I regularly hear from members about the issues we work on in APA’s Public Interest Directorate. In some cases, members are unhappy that we are working at all on a particular issue. In other cases, members think we are not doing enough on that same issue. In this column, I’d like to explain how we determine whether APA should take a position on a human welfare issue, when it is appropriate to do so and how we develop that position or policy.

First and foremost, APA’s role is to identify, collect and disseminate the science. The first question we ask is whether there is sufficient top-quality psychological science on which to base a position, develop a resolution or promote a particular policy. The Public Interest Directorate pulls together the research to inform and educate society about a wide variety of health and social issues, including immigration, same-sex marriage, lesbian and gay parenting, abortion, health-care and educational equity, affirmative action and many others. We take our commitment to APA’s mission to “benefit society and improve people’s lives” very seriously.

Because we base our efforts on science, APA is frequently sought out by policymakers for research-based information on the wide array of issues that come before the U.S. Congress and the federal agencies. APA’s credibility around these issues is broad, consistent and strong, and psychology benefits a great deal as a result.

One issue that has recently drawn substantial interest from our members is our work on immigration policy. APA has long supported research and policy opposing discrimination and racial and ethnic prejudice, adopting its first policy on the issue in 1950. Since then, APA has adopted policies against many forms of discrimination, including discrimination based on gender, sexual orientation, social class, age and disability status. We’ve also adopted policies on racial and ethnic profiling and the impact of the experience of immigration on children and families.

Earlier this year, APA President-elect Dr. Melba Vasquez established a task force to review the literature related to the experience of immigration and its impact on society. Dr. Vasquez also established a task force on discrimination and diversity that is addressing discrimination broadly, looking, for example, at its impact on those who discriminate, as well as those who are discriminated against.

In June, Dr. Vasquez and APA Public Interest Government Relations Office staff visited Capitol Hill to meet with key policymakers. They briefed U.S. Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) and staff from the Congressional Mental Health Caucus in Rep. Grace Napolitano’s (D-Calif.) office on upcoming initiatives related to immigration (see September Monitor). The purpose of these visits was to inform the policymakers about psychologists’ research findings in this area, including that immigration policies can have a lasting impact on children and adolescents. APA and Public Interest collect and disseminate the relevant science to policymakers, inform decision-makers about the impact of laws, and advocate for policies and positions based on the psychological literature. (Details are available online on APA policy statements and activities over the past decade on immigration-related issues, discrimination, racial/ethnic profiling and related subjects.)

Inevitably, and particularly around difficult issues such as immigration, we will not all agree. Navigating through painful discussions is hard. Two principles must guide us: First, our decisions as an association must follow the science. Second, we must remain committed to diversity in the broadest sense — diverse individuals and groups, involved at all levels of membership and leadership, addressing a wide range of issues and concerns, making room for multiple voices and perspectives.