Normalizing Illegality

A psychologist colleague recently mentioned that he frequently interviews illegal immigrants who are applying for disability payments.  Apparently, our state doesn't merely wink at the legal status of applicants, but it provides translators for those who don't speak English.  The last such applicant my colleague interviewed had lived in the United States for eleven years.  The applicant was neuro-cognitively capable of learning English but had elected not to.

I decided to look into how the American Psychological Association (APA) deals with illegal immigration and ran into a problem right off the bat.  In its cited research and public policy positions, the APA barely acknowledges the fact that illegal immigration exists and assigns no psychological importance to it.  From a recent article by Dr. Gwendolyn Puryear Keita, who heads up an APA bureaucracy called the Public Interest Directorate:

First and foremost, APA's role is to identify, collect and disseminate the science. ... The Public Interest Directorate pulls together the research to inform and educate society about a wide variety of health and social issues, including immigration, same-sex marriage, lesbian and gay parenting, abortion, health-care and educational equity, affirmative action and many others. 
(
Disseminating science that improve people's lives)

Immigration tops that list, but APA literature studiously avoids the issue of legality of immigration and tends to use the euphemism "undocumented" when it comes up at all.  By consistently conflating legal and illegal immigrants into one category, the APA is in denial that the illegal status of millions of people in our country has any psychological significance.

This form of the defense mechanism of denial is called minimization.  The APA doesn't overtly deny the existence of  "undocumented immigrants," but for psychological research purposes, the legal vs. illegal status is an extremely important independent variable that does not make its way into APA science.  The APA is the premier organization that defines "normality" in America.  Its denial of this critical variable not only compromises its science but, in effect, entrenches support for mass criminal behavior into its public policies.

Understanding the defense mechanism of denial as the basis for psychological addictions goes back to Freud.  APA research, public policies, and resolutions show signs of a form of mental addiction to the psychology of preselected victim groups, which include people of color, gay men, lesbians, bisexual people, transgendered individuals, immigrants, women, and poor people.  That list (and variants of it) dominates APA-endorsed research generally, and it is becoming noticeable in immigration-specific research.  For example:

As diversity in the US. increases, so must the cultural competency of practitioners ... We can't emphasize enough the importance of cultural competence when working with LGBT immigrant families. Clinicians must have knowledge of the culture of origin and U.S. immigration/asylum policies, as well as LGBT clinical competence.  (From Children, Youth, and Families newsletter)

Regarding the psychological implications of illegality, would the APA take the position that parents should tell their children that it's OK to take whatever they want without regard for law or for the people they're robbing?  Would the APA tell psychologists they don't need documents?  You don't have to go to graduate school and earn an official transcript and pass difficult tests and take out burdensome education loans and get state licenses and take endless continuing education.  Just be an "undocumented psychologist."  Anybody who objects to your undocumented status is culturally insensitive or discriminatory.

In fact, the APA guards its professional identity -- which is based entirely on earned documents and the rule of law -- with the ferocity of a lioness protecting her cubs.  But when it comes to living in the United States, the APA implicitly promotes the position that you have a right to break in and start enjoying our society's benefits.  Furthermore, you'll probably become a victim and therefore be "underserved" by taxpayer dollars.  Americans who hold you responsible for your illegality?  They're discriminatory and prejudiced, candidates for psychological rehabilitation.

In this reverse victimization, victims are the people who break the law, and the perpetrators are those who want to uphold it.  The list of preferred victims whom the APA promotes is blind to the psychological facts of American life.  Criminality and criminal status are extremely important psychological variables for individuals who have broken the law, for their families, for their communities, and for our nation.  Criminal psychology has been well-studied -- except in the case of illegal aliens.

I have a client, a white middle-aged man who used to own a restaurant.  He is an accomplished chef, but he had to declare bankruptcy in 2008.  Since then, he has been working very hard to find suitable employment.  And he's been extremely depressed.  In our town, the main illegal alien hangout is next to the post office.  This in itself is aggressive.  When this man gets his mail, he has to walk past a taquería playing mariachi music and displaying the Mexican flag and menus in Spanish.  This man's demographic never appears on the APA's list of preferred victims.  The APA would likely diagnose him as a prejudiced person for the resentment he feels.

The normalization of illegal immigration by placing it on a moral equivalence with legal immigration raises numerous psychological questions of vital importance.  Is the suicide rate higher among white, middle-aged, bankrupt men or illegal aliens?  How about the rate of depression in American men and women who have lost their livelihoods and/or home, and who have little hope of regaining their previous income?  They have no foreign home to go to -- they are home.  Who tends to have a stronger social support system: middle-aged American citizens in bankruptcy or illegal aliens?  I don't know.  But before the APA throws around one of its favorite words -- underserved (a recent search of the APA website found that term 724 times) -- it should look into who is being served.

What are the psychological effects on our respect for our law caused by a shadow population of criminal aliens?  The APA makes much noise about professional ethics, but what are the effects on psychologists who must ignore criminality in order to keep their jobs or to conduct research needed for advanced degrees?  How does mass emigration of young, healthy people impact mental health in the home nations of Mexico and Central America countries?  Mexico seems to be moving into an abyss of lawlessness.  Has the normalization of illegal immigration by American psychology contributed indirectly to the misery in Mexico and other countries?

The APA does not acknowledge these questions.  So we must.  Psychologists must begin to explore these issues in rigorous, statistically valid, and reliable research.  And citizens must begin challenging the expenditure of public funds for social welfare programs that ignore illegality.

References
APA informs Congress about risks to immigrant children
Deciding Who Belongs
APA Initiatives on Immigration and Related Issues

Deborah C. Tyler can be reached through psychologywatch.intylergence.com.
A psychologist colleague recently mentioned that he frequently interviews illegal immigrants who are applying for disability payments.  Apparently, our state doesn't merely wink at the legal status of applicants, but it provides translators for those who don't speak English.  The last such applicant my colleague interviewed had lived in the United States for eleven years.  The applicant was neuro-cognitively capable of learning English but had elected not to.

I decided to look into how the American Psychological Association (APA) deals with illegal immigration and ran into a problem right off the bat.  In its cited research and public policy positions, the APA barely acknowledges the fact that illegal immigration exists and assigns no psychological importance to it.  From a recent article by Dr. Gwendolyn Puryear Keita, who heads up an APA bureaucracy called the Public Interest Directorate:

First and foremost, APA's role is to identify, collect and disseminate the science. ... The Public Interest Directorate pulls together the research to inform and educate society about a wide variety of health and social issues, including immigration, same-sex marriage, lesbian and gay parenting, abortion, health-care and educational equity, affirmative action and many others. 
(
Disseminating science that improve people's lives)

Immigration tops that list, but APA literature studiously avoids the issue of legality of immigration and tends to use the euphemism "undocumented" when it comes up at all.  By consistently conflating legal and illegal immigrants into one category, the APA is in denial that the illegal status of millions of people in our country has any psychological significance.

This form of the defense mechanism of denial is called minimization.  The APA doesn't overtly deny the existence of  "undocumented immigrants," but for psychological research purposes, the legal vs. illegal status is an extremely important independent variable that does not make its way into APA science.  The APA is the premier organization that defines "normality" in America.  Its denial of this critical variable not only compromises its science but, in effect, entrenches support for mass criminal behavior into its public policies.

Understanding the defense mechanism of denial as the basis for psychological addictions goes back to Freud.  APA research, public policies, and resolutions show signs of a form of mental addiction to the psychology of preselected victim groups, which include people of color, gay men, lesbians, bisexual people, transgendered individuals, immigrants, women, and poor people.  That list (and variants of it) dominates APA-endorsed research generally, and it is becoming noticeable in immigration-specific research.  For example:

As diversity in the US. increases, so must the cultural competency of practitioners ... We can't emphasize enough the importance of cultural competence when working with LGBT immigrant families. Clinicians must have knowledge of the culture of origin and U.S. immigration/asylum policies, as well as LGBT clinical competence.  (From Children, Youth, and Families newsletter)

Regarding the psychological implications of illegality, would the APA take the position that parents should tell their children that it's OK to take whatever they want without regard for law or for the people they're robbing?  Would the APA tell psychologists they don't need documents?  You don't have to go to graduate school and earn an official transcript and pass difficult tests and take out burdensome education loans and get state licenses and take endless continuing education.  Just be an "undocumented psychologist."  Anybody who objects to your undocumented status is culturally insensitive or discriminatory.

In fact, the APA guards its professional identity -- which is based entirely on earned documents and the rule of law -- with the ferocity of a lioness protecting her cubs.  But when it comes to living in the United States, the APA implicitly promotes the position that you have a right to break in and start enjoying our society's benefits.  Furthermore, you'll probably become a victim and therefore be "underserved" by taxpayer dollars.  Americans who hold you responsible for your illegality?  They're discriminatory and prejudiced, candidates for psychological rehabilitation.

In this reverse victimization, victims are the people who break the law, and the perpetrators are those who want to uphold it.  The list of preferred victims whom the APA promotes is blind to the psychological facts of American life.  Criminality and criminal status are extremely important psychological variables for individuals who have broken the law, for their families, for their communities, and for our nation.  Criminal psychology has been well-studied -- except in the case of illegal aliens.

I have a client, a white middle-aged man who used to own a restaurant.  He is an accomplished chef, but he had to declare bankruptcy in 2008.  Since then, he has been working very hard to find suitable employment.  And he's been extremely depressed.  In our town, the main illegal alien hangout is next to the post office.  This in itself is aggressive.  When this man gets his mail, he has to walk past a taquería playing mariachi music and displaying the Mexican flag and menus in Spanish.  This man's demographic never appears on the APA's list of preferred victims.  The APA would likely diagnose him as a prejudiced person for the resentment he feels.

The normalization of illegal immigration by placing it on a moral equivalence with legal immigration raises numerous psychological questions of vital importance.  Is the suicide rate higher among white, middle-aged, bankrupt men or illegal aliens?  How about the rate of depression in American men and women who have lost their livelihoods and/or home, and who have little hope of regaining their previous income?  They have no foreign home to go to -- they are home.  Who tends to have a stronger social support system: middle-aged American citizens in bankruptcy or illegal aliens?  I don't know.  But before the APA throws around one of its favorite words -- underserved (a recent search of the APA website found that term 724 times) -- it should look into who is being served.

What are the psychological effects on our respect for our law caused by a shadow population of criminal aliens?  The APA makes much noise about professional ethics, but what are the effects on psychologists who must ignore criminality in order to keep their jobs or to conduct research needed for advanced degrees?  How does mass emigration of young, healthy people impact mental health in the home nations of Mexico and Central America countries?  Mexico seems to be moving into an abyss of lawlessness.  Has the normalization of illegal immigration by American psychology contributed indirectly to the misery in Mexico and other countries?

The APA does not acknowledge these questions.  So we must.  Psychologists must begin to explore these issues in rigorous, statistically valid, and reliable research.  And citizens must begin challenging the expenditure of public funds for social welfare programs that ignore illegality.

References
APA informs Congress about risks to immigrant children
Deciding Who Belongs
APA Initiatives on Immigration and Related Issues

Deborah C. Tyler can be reached through psychologywatch.intylergence.com.