According to a new study, short-term exposure to Trump’s 2016 immigration policies was enough to trigger an anxiety response among the Latino population in America. The findings, published in the journal Group Processes & Relations, additionally suggest that this anxiety response is greater when Trump immigration cues coincide with Spanish language cues.
It is no secret that Donald Trump’s 2016 immigration agenda was characterized by strict policies against undocumented citizens and hateful anti-immigrant rhetoric. The former president’s agenda threatened the deportation of unauthorized immigrants, all while painting these individuals as criminals and terrorists. Unsurprisingly, research suggests that these threats led to a range of mental health consequences among immigrants in America.
In a series of 2017 studies, a research team led by Bradford S. Jones aimed to explore whether exposure to Trump’s immigration agenda would be enough to trigger an anxiety response among the Latino population in America — the population that makes up the largest proportion of U.S. immigrants.
First, two studies conducted in early 2017 had a sample of Latino and Latina respondents randomly assigned to complete one of two surveys. Roughly half of the respondents were shown an image of Trump next to a few bullet points outlining his 2016 immigration policies and the other half was not. Both studies yielded similar results — those who were exposed to the Trump cue later rated their worry of being deported higher compared to those who saw no cue. They also gave higher ratings for worry that a family member would be deported.
A third study using similar surveys assessed how Latinx respondents’ attributes might affect the extent they experience deportation anxiety. Unsurprisingly, immigrants and second-generation citizens showed higher anxiety than third-generation citizens. Darker-skinned respondents and those with greater in-group identification also showed increased deportation anxiety. Notably, even Latinx respondents who were American citizens showed high levels of deportation anxiety.
A final study explored the effects of language of survey among a sample of bilingual Latinx respondents. The surveys were written in either Spanish or English and either contained a Trump cue or no Trump cue. Here, it was found that respondents who completed the survey in Spanish showed greater deportation anxiety than those who completed the survey in English. Moreover, Spanish language appeared to increase anxiety independent of exposure to the Trump cue. This suggests that, among comparable bilingual respondents, the Spanish language acted as a cue that increased the salience of the Latino identity, possibly triggering the associated threat of deportation.
The authors note that the Trump cue triggered deportation anxiety among Latinx respondents of all backgrounds — including those who were English-speaking, bilingual, or Spanish-speaking, citizens and non-citizens, and Latinx of all skin tones. Many of the respondents likely came from mixed-status households and may have had family members at risk. Because of this, some respondents’ anxiety may have stemmed from the fact that if their family members were deported, they would need to leave the country, too.
Jones and his colleagues explain that their findings suggest that real-world exposure to Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric likely had a profound impact on Latino mental health. “In reality, exposure to the “Trump cue” likely occurred frequently, given the prevalence and saliency of the immigration issue,” the authors point out. “If exposure induced anxiety, and exposure occurred with high frequency, then Latina/os, or many of them, likely endured tremendous stress in a context inducing existential threat.”
The study, “Trump-induced anxiety among Latina/os”, was authored by Bradford S. Jones, Jeffrey W. Sherman, Natalie E. Rojas, Adrienne Hosek, David L. Vannette, Rene R. Rocha, Omar García-Ponce, Maria Pantoja, and Jesus Manuel García-Amador.