The 2018 American Psychiatric Association (APA) Annual Meeting hosted an advocacy booth that brought together medical students, psychiatry residents, and practicing psychiatrists from different backgrounds with one purpose: “To increase awareness around the mental health needs of the 437,000 foreign nationals from 10 countries on Temporary Protected Status.”
Congress created the Temporary Protected Status, also known as TPS, as part of the Immigration Act of 1990 to provide temporary lawful status to foreign nationals from countries that have suffered natural disasters, protracted unrest or conflict, or who are going through other extraordinary circumstances that prevent their safe return home. Put differently, TPS is a humanitarian visa that allows its beneficiaries to integrate into, and contribute to, the American social, economic, and civic fabric. Foreign nationals from El Salvador, Honduras, and Haiti account for almost 93% of the TPS population and more than 80% are currently part of the labor force. The remaining countries with a TPS designation include Nepal, Syria, Nicaragua, Yemen, Sudan, Somalia, and South Sudan.
At the risk of returning back to their native country which might still be unsafe, TPS beneficiaries are desperately trying to avoid deportation by advocating for an extension of the TPS or seeking permanent residence in the US. Through our advocacy booth at 2018 APA meeting, psychiatrists became aware of the fear, anxiety, demoralization, and possible re-traumatization that trainees, colleagues, and patients on TPS go through. We also increased awareness around the high incidence of emotional suffering and mental illnesses associated with immigration, the low rate of mental health service use by migrants, and the effects of immigration-related family separation on US-born children.
Dr. Severe is a Public Psychiatry Fellow, Columbia University, New York; Dr Japa is a PGY 2 Psychiatry Resident, Cooper University Hospital, Camden, NJ.