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Child and Adolescent Forensic Psychiatry Examination and Analysis of U.S. Citizen Children with Illegal Immigrant Parents Facing Deportation.

  • Wylonis, Nina Tove1
  • Billick, Stephen Bates2
  • 1 Departments of Psychiatry and Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, New York University School of Medicine, New York, NY, USA. [email protected]
  • 2 Departments of Psychiatry and Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, New York University School of Medicine, New York, NY, USA.
Published Article
Psychiatric Quarterly
Publication Date
Aug 10, 2020
DOI: 10.1007/s11126-020-09801-x
PMID: 32778994


Although the citizenship clause of the fourteenth amendment guarantees citizenship to persons born in the United States, the 1996 Immigration Act does not allow illegal immigrant parents to avoid deportation unless such deportation would cause extreme and exceptional hardship to a U.S. citizen relative. This paper reviews the potential adverse effects of such deportation on a child. It presents 12 cases where child and adolescent forensic psychiatric evaluations of U.S. citizen children supported their immigrant parents' petitions for legal resident status. Parent-child attachment, as well as the child's educational status, language proficiencies, acculturation to U.S. culture, and psychiatric distress at the potential deportation, are the factors most helpful in elucidating a child's reaction to this threatened deportation. During the child and adolescent psychiatry evaluations, the parents were interviewed, school records were reviewed and, where appropriate, pediatric records were considered. All the children were examined alone and then as a family unit with their parents using standard DSM-IV-TR diagnostic criteria [1]. Firstly, considering their clinical diagnoses, a clinical prognosis was made for the possibility if the child were to be forced to go to their parents' country of origin with their deported illegal immigrant parent(s). Secondly, each case was examined and analyzed individually to determine the clinical prognosis of the U.S. citizen child if they were to stay in the United States while the illegal immigrant parent(s) was forced to leave. In all of the 12 cases, there was already pre-existing anxiety in the children secondary to the fear of a negative outcome for the parents in the immigration legal cases. In all of the 12 cases it was also determined that the prognosis for the child's adjustment to being without their parent but remaining in the US would have produced a significant exacerbation of the psychopathology already seen. Furthermore, in all of the 12 cases, were the children to be relocated to their parental culture, unfamiliar to the child's American culture, again, the prognosis was made that a significant exacerbation of psychopathology would occur. On the basis of the findings of the child and adolescent psychiatric evaluations and analyses presented to the court, all of the illegal immigrant parents were permitted to receive permanent resident status.

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