Pain Through Passage: How Immigration Leads to Trauma

Pain Through Passage: How Immigration Leads to Trauma

Starting a new chapter in your life can be exciting and nerve-wracking all at the same time. Whether it’s preparing for college, entering the workforce, moving out of your parent’s house to live on your own, or moving to a completely different state or country, it is completely normal to feel multiple emotions all at once. Now, imagine traveling to a new country on your own where you don’t understand the native language and you’re separated from everything that is familiar to you.

Many immigrants migrate to America for various reasons. It can be due to their low socioeconomic environment, wanting to provide a better life for themselves or their family, educational purposes, or political conflicts. According to scholars Krista M. Perreira and India Ornelas, “Approximately 37 million immigrant adults and 3 million immigrant children (ages 0–17) live in the United States” (Perreira & Ornelas, 2013). 

Assistant professor at Michigan State University Farha Abbasi states, “In many respects, immigration is trauma. It is a complete loss of identity and familiarity, and immigrants are often left without the proper tools or resources to help them cope in a new environment. That transition in itself, even if it ends well, can leave deep scars” (Abbasi, 2020). Whatever stage of migrating to a new country, it has been reported that immigrants are at risk for experiencing traumatic events. According to the DSM-5, post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is defined as “the development of char­acteristic symptoms following exposure to one or more traumatic events” (American Psychiatric Association, 2013). 

Upon migrating to America, immigrants may have been faced with many obstacles. “Entry to the US without legal authorization can involve arduous journeys with exposure to extreme physical hardships as well as violence” (Perreira & Ornelas, 2014). This is especially prevalent in immigration detention centers and how ICE (Immigrations and Customs Enforcement) treats immigrants. 

The role that ICE plays in society involves preventing cross-border related crimes and enforcing legal immigration. While there may be good intentions to maintain law and order and preserve the safety of the citizens, this has negatively affected many families who come from immigrant backgrounds. Some families had their loved ones removed from their home by ICE without ever hearing from them again, not knowing where they are or if they’re even alive, which can be traumatizing. 

Children who come from immigrant families in particular can be emotionally traumatized by the separation of their parents, and depending on their age, they handle the disappearance of their parents differently. The psychological impact on separation affects younger children in a sense that they believe their parents simply “disappeared.” “The parents left behind struggled over whether and how to explain the disappearance, as well as how much hope to offer for a resolution” (Capps, 2007). 

Trauma affects people of different socioeconomic backgrounds, cultures, race and ethnicities differently. Seeking counseling as an immigrant can often be difficult, however. Thankfully, great strides are being made to accommodate immigrants’ mental well being with organizations such as Immigration Counseling Services (ICS).



Abbasi, F. (2020.). Immigration, Trauma, and the Power of Faith. Retrieved November 28, 2020, from

American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Washington, DC: Publisher.

Capps, R. (2007). Paying the price: The impact of immigration raids on America’s children. Washington, D.C.: National Council of La Raza.

Perreira, K., & Ornelas, I. (2013, December). Painful Passages: Traumatic Experiences and Post-Traumatic Stress among Immigrant Latino Adolescents and their Primary Caregivers. Retrieved November 28, 2020, from

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