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Anti-Immigrant Policies Affect Young Immigrants In N.M.

May Ortega | KUNM
Adriana Martinez teaches a Salsa class at the Library Bar and Grill.

President Donald Trump’s anti-immigrant policies have fueled anxiety among undocumented youth in New Mexico. There are local factors that cause stress, too, and there are a few things young folks can do that might help them feel better.

If you go by the Library Bar and Grill in Downtown Albuquerque on a Wednesday night, you might hear some salsa music. And you’ll see Adriana Martinez giving dancing lessons.

Martinez has been teaching classes here for a few months. She’s loved dancing her whole life. Her hobby has become more than that lately, itt’s a form of therapy.

“It makes me super happy and then it gives me a moment to step away from reality,” Martinez said. “Then I’m able to relieve some stress.”

Martinez’ parents brought her to the U.S. illegally when she was 8 years old. Now, she’s one of 6,000 New Mexicans enrolled in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA). The Trump administration started phasing out DACA protections in September 2017.

“When DACA was rescinded it kind of reminded me ‘This isn’t permanent, it can be taken away any moment,’” she said. “And it was a really good wakeup call.”

There are some pending lawsuits in federal courts that could decide DACA’s fate. For now, it’s up in the air. Martinez was watching the news closely at first, making sure she was in the loop with all things DACA and immigration. But she needed to stop.

“It’s emotionally stressful to one day be like, ‘Oh, we’re going to get the Dream Act,’ and then the next day it’s like, ‘Actually we’re having people getting deported for whatever reason,’” she said.

Tom Chavez understands how she feels, or more like, what could be causing those feelings. He’s an assistant professor with the University of New Mexico’s counselor education program whose work focuses on Latino issues relating to identity and wellness.

“You always have to prepare for the worst and hope for the best,” Chavez said. “And that’s a constant stress for them, to always be in that middle ground.”

Young folks with DACA protections consider the worst possibilities pretty often. A study from the Center for American Progress found more than half of DACA recipients think about deportation at least once a day. Chavez said that can cause long-lasting issues.

“You always have to be hypervigilant about these things that the general population doesn’t really have to think about,” he said. “With time, of course, it’s going to contribute to greater clinical anxiety and clinical depression.”

Therapy can help with that, but Hispanic immigrants don’t have a lot of options.

Research shows that some Hispanic people prefer a psychologist who looks like them or who speaks the same language – someone they can trust. But only 5 percent of psychologists in the U.S. are Hispanic, according to the American Psychological Association. And only 6 percent of all American psychologists can provide services in Spanish.

Chavez recommends another solution.

“Talk therapies, yes they’re helpful and they’re supportive, but it’s the being active piece that makes a greater difference,” he said. “It’s ‘I’m able to do something, I can change something in my world, my immediate world and in the world in general.’”

Josue De Luna Navarro is very active within an immigrant advocacy group called the NM Dream Team. He said they are a great support network. They’ve helped him cope with some of his experiences as a DACA recipient. But that hasn’t solved everything.


“One of our dearest friends in the movement, I remember him saying, ‘During all of this chaos, sometimes I just want to cross the street and hope to get run over,’” he recalled. “And we started realizing that those stories were coming up a lot.”

That’s when De Luna Navarro teamed up with the Dream Team’s Undocuhealth project to research what was causing this kind of stress and anxiety. Schools were a big part of it.

“All the stories were connecting microaggressions from educators, discriminations done in school settings,” he said. “If there’s not a policy at a state level that ensures the dignity and the safety of undocumented students in the state, those stories of how their wellbeing is impacted will just continue through generations.”

Now the Dream Team is looking to Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham to expand protections for undocumented students in schools.

Adriana Martinez almost dropped out of school because she was afraid of being deported, but she’s determined to graduate.

“It was actually a really difficult decision to continue school because I’m using all of my savings accounts to pay for school,” she said. “If anything were to happen, I’d have no money, but if there’s anything nobody can take away from you, that’s your education.”

She said the stress of watching DACA’s ups and downs has made her realize that she’d rather focus on the freedoms she has and the life she’s living.


Support for KUNM’s Public Health New Mexico project comes from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, the McCune Charitable Foundation, and from KUNM listeners like you.


May joined KUNM's Public Health New Mexico team in early 2018. That same year, she established the New Mexico chapter of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists and received a fellowship from the Association of Health Care Journalists. She join Colorado Public Radio in late 2019.
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