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How Psychiatrists Can Help Immigrant Families


The separation of families seeking asylum at the U.S. border has left many in shock and disbelief and wanting to take action. A federal judge has ruled that the children under age 5 taken from their parents be returned, but the process is slow going. Recently, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) and 17 other mental health organizations sent a letter to the Department of Justice, Department of Homeland Security and Department of Health and Human Services, expressing concerns about the treatment of asylum-seekers at the border.

Meanwhile, psychiatrists can take several actions to make their own voice heard or to help, such as:

Volunteer to Offer Pro-bono Psychiatric Services

Health and Human Services has contracted with Lutheran Family Services and Catholic Charities to assist with relocation of the immigrant families.  At this stage when families are reunited and new immigrant families coming into the U.S., they are being processed through a few centers near the border.  Families are in the centers from 2 to 24 hours before they proceed by bus or plane to their sponsor somewhere else across the U.S.  Most are referred for social and legal services to a local Catholic Charities or Lutheran Family Services agency nearest to their sponsor.  

The APA has partnered with Catholic Charities and Lutheran Family Services to assist their local agencies with needed psychiatric services.  As these agencies identify a need, APA will post the location and contact information on our web site.  To date the following service agencies have expressed assistance for pro-bono psychiatric services:

Boston, MA
Marjean A. Perhot
Refugee and Immigration Services
Catholic Charities Archdiocese of Boston
275 West Broadway
South Boston, MA 02127

Baltimore, MD
Helany J. Sinkler
Esperanza Center
Catholic Charities of Baltimore

If you are looking for other opportunities to assist, you can sign up for the Physicians for Human Rights Asylum Network to provide your name as available to the various advocacy organizations that are looking for evaluators, and Stand With Immigrants where you can also sign up to submit your name as a volunteer mental health professional. 

Write the Administration

Use APA's online form to send a letter to President Trump condemning the policy and urging him to reunite the separated families. APA has pre-written the letter for you, but you can make edits to the text to personalize the message.

Speak up on Social Media

#FamiliesBelongTogether #EndFamilySeparation

The APA urges an immediate halt to the policy of separating children from their parents. “As physician experts in mental health, the American Psychiatric Association opposes any policy that separates children from their parents at the United States border,” said APA President Altha Stewart, M.D. “Children depend on their parents for safety and support. Any forced separation is highly stressful for children and can cause lifelong trauma, as well as an increased risk of other mental illnesses, such as depression, anxiety, and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).” Read more.



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Check out Navigating Psychiatry Residency in the United States: A Guide for International Medical Graduate Physicians, a comprehensive toolkit that gives IMGs an overview of the U.S. medical education and training system, language factors and strategies for improvement, U.S. customs and norms to consider in practice, and a guide to H1-B and J-1 visas required for residing in the U.S.

IMGs can connect with mentors and other colleagues through APA’s Caucuses. Any member can join these caucuses, which represent many different interests, including those of Minority and Underrepresented Groups such as IMGs. M/UR caucus members have direct input into APA governance, as they all elect representatives to the APA Assembly.