By Holden Slattery
Fatima Avelica was riding to school in her father’s car when a traffic stop by immigration officers in northeast Los Angeles suddenly turned her world upside down.
In the car, 13-year-old Fatima sobbed as she pointed her cell phone camera at the windshield and shot a video that shows Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers handcuffing and detaining her father, Romulo Avelica-Gonzalez.
A citizen of Mexico who has lived in the U.S. for 25 years, Avelica-Gonzalez had an order of deportation since 2014 according to a report from the Los Angeles Times.
“I was feeling scared and sad because I never imagined experiencing something like that in my life and because I’ve never been separated from my dad like that,” Fatima said in a recent interview. “I thought I was never going to get to see my dad again.”
The Migration Policy Institute estimates that nearly one in five children in Los Angeles County is U.S. born and living in a home with at least one undocumented parent.
Detentions and deportations of parents and other caretakers can leave lasting impacts on children. According to a brief from the American Psychological Association, parents’ “legal vulnerability, detention and deportation are strongly associated with depression, anxiety, fears of separation, social isolation, self-stigma, aggression, withdrawal and negative academic consequences among children.”
One of the more severe reactions to this kind of event is post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), said Marleen Wong, a child trauma expert at the University of Southern California’s Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work.
“The stress of seeing your parent detained and the uncertainty of what’s going to happen to him or her — will you be reunited? — that’s pretty stressful,” Wong said. “But does it reach the level of PTSD? For some kids, yes, and for other kids, no.”
The severity of trauma that a child experiences can depend on the presence of what Wong and other family psychologists call “protective factors.” These include support from family members and from community groups and the ability to see and communicate with the removed parent.