Trauma in the American Asylum Process: Experiences of Immigrant Families Under the Migrant Protection Protocols

Document Type


Journal/Book Title/Conference

Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy


American Psychological Association

Publication Date



Objective: Latinx asylum-seeking families report posttraumatic distress that is 161-204% higher than in nonimmigrants, with adverse consequences for health and well-being. Recent U.S. policies have further embedded trauma in the asylum-seeking process by forcing families to remain in Mexico, enduring dire living conditions in tent encampments near the border while awaiting processing. These families are now entering the United States in large numbers. This article sheds light on their recent experiences and mental health needs, using a mixed methods-grounded theory design, presenting quantitative and qualitative data to describe the experiences of six asylum-seeking families who waited for 1-2 years in the refugee camp in Mexico. Method: Quantitative data was obtained from the Brief Symptom Inventory-18 and the Harvard Trauma Questionnaire while qualitative interviews provided insight into reasons for migration and trauma at different stages of the migration process. Results: All participants experienced multiple traumas and endorsed trauma related symptoms. Important themes of psychological distress and trauma emerged, including unending suffering, hunger, and worry for the safety of their children while living in the refugee camp. Asylum-seeking families experienced substantial distress and trauma secondary to their stay in Mexico and COVID-19. Conclusion: Families arriving to the United States have experienced significant trauma, separation, and loss before and during their journey. Interactions with an unprepared and overwhelmed immigration system further compromises their psychological well-being. It is imperative that first-person narratives inform policy that addresses their complex needs and protects their human rights.