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After They Migrate, Asylum Seekers’ Mental Health Declines in NYC Shelters

Within the span of three months, two asylum seekers took their lives while living in NYC shelters. We look at the mental health cost of migrating.

When Danira, 32, arrived in New York City in late April, she hoped it would mark the end of a four-year immigration journey that began in Honduras, where she experienced domestic violence. First, she fled to Mexico City, where she built a new life with her daughters, 9 and 3 years old, made friends, and was employed. But on Christmas Eve in 2021, she and her daughters were kidnapped and kept in captivity until late January 2022. 

Following their release, she had two options: relocate to another part of Mexico or migrate to the United States and seek asylum. While she and her daughters were happy in Mexico City, her daughters were unable to attend school because she worked two jobs and couldn’t take them to and from school. So they headed to the U.S., where Danira faced major mental health challenges.

Her first weeks in NYC were spent inside the shelter room with nothing to do. She recalls a day in June 2022, when her daughters were having breakfast. Her head and neck started to hurt; she felt agitated. She paced around the room; it didn’t help. It felt as though the walls in her apartment were inching closer toward her while her daughters peacefully finished their breakfast, she said. 

It was a panic attack, and she left for the emergency room immediately. Panic attacks are an indication of something much deeper going on, Katharine Mackel, associate program director for Care for the Homeless Program at The Institute for Family Health in New York City, said. 

Mackel, a licensed clinical social worker who works with immigrant and undocumented clients, says barriers that prevent access to employment and other essential resources further impact the mental health of those already facing housing insecurity.

Within the span of three months last year, two asylum seekers took their lives while living in NYC shelters. Their deaths, along with accounts of migrants residing at NYC shelters, brought attention to the effects migration and the immigration court process have on mental health.

Like Danira, more than 30,000 migrants have been processed at NYC shelters since spring of last year, many of whom have been bused to Port Authority from Texas. Many are asylum seekers from Venezuela who do not have family connections in the states and rely on public assistance and non-profit organizations.

When Danira visited the emergency room for a panic attack on that day in June, it wasn’t her last. She was eventually diagnosed with elevated troponin levels, a marker for heart damage, according to her medical records, which Documented reviewed. The records also show she was diagnosed with depression and adult anxiety. She was prescribed medications, and later saw a psychologist for the first time in October.  

Danira’s therapist has been helping her explore the root of her anxiety. Read more of her story from Rommel Ojeda on Documented.


New York

Twitter may have broken New York City law by firing its cleaning staff: The company abruptly ended its contract with Flagship Facility Services, leaving many immigrant workers jobless. — Documented

Around the U.S. 

Prosecutors take down phony pastors who targeted immigrants in $28 million Ponzi scheme: Not only were Dennis Jali, a South African self-proclaimed finance guru, and his accomplices not pastors, they never made any investments with their clients’ money. — MarketWatch

Immigrants, advocates urge lawmakers to expand healthcare coverage to undocumented: People gathered at the Connecticut legislator renewing their calls for expanded health coverage for all immigrants regardless of their status. — NBC Connecticut

Love across the border: a couple’s 13-year quest to be reunited in the U.S.: After over a decade of living across two countries – and navigating the US’s tangled immigration policies – a couple’s life together is no longer shrouded in secrecy. — The Guardian

Minnesota immigrants ask lawmakers to pass driver’s license bill:  A broad swath of immigration, faith, business, agriculture and public safety groups spoke in favor of a Minnesota bill to let undocumented immigrants get driver’s licenses. — MPR News 

Sahan Journal is using voice-note newsletters to reach Somalis in Minnesota: The publication developed Tani waa su’aashayda after a year of listening sessions with immigrant, refugee, and non-English-speaking communities across Minnesota. — Nieman Lab

Washington D.C.

TPS extended and re-designated for Somalia: The Department of Homeland Security extended it through September 17, 2024, and eligible Somali nationals residing in the U.S. as of January 11, 2023, can apply. — Read more

Republican House will vote on bills to curtail immigration: Among the 7 bills that were assured speedy votes is one that would empower the DHS secretary to block border entry for migrants at “his discretion.” — NBC News

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