Mental Health Funding for Undocumented Immigrants

Mental health services for undocumented immigrants is not a top priority for both state and local government spending

By Maximiliano A. Molina
Published on LatinoLA: April 30, 2012

Mental Health Funding for Undocumented Immigrants

Imagine yourself being in another country without any support from family or friends. Trying your best to be accepted into their culture and society. Picking up work that most people will not do and for very little earnings. Imagine constantly worrying about whether you may be deported and sent back to your country of origin.

Imagine waking up in the middle of the night after experiencing nightmares of dogs chasing you as you run to escape them. Imagine experiencing all of this, in addition to having a mental illness and having nowhere to go for treatment. This is a fictional account created by reading articles about the experiences some undocumented immigrants have to face in order to make it into the United States.

According to a report published by the Department of Homeland Security, California has the highest estimated unauthorized immigrant population with a total of 2,830,000 unauthorized immigrants. Although there is not a specific statistical number of how many undocumented immigrants have a severe mental illness, it is known by the lack of information that there is little to no services for those who do have a severe mental illness.

This is not to say that mental health centers and/or mental health providers do not want to provide services to undocumented immigrants, but rather that there are few to no funds available to be able to do so. The question then arises, "Where could those funds come from? Is there money out there that could be used for this cause?"

According to section 2 of the Mental Health Services Act, labeled "Findings and Declarations" it states, that if untreated, mental illness can create costs for the state and local government. Theoretically, it would be in the best interest of the local and state government to find a way to provide funding for those undocumented immigrants who have a severe mental illness.

Recently, articles have also been published stating that the Mental Health Services Act has not been treating the identified targeted population: the severely mentally ill nor those who have been underserved. It then comes to mind if undocumented immigrants with severe mental illness would be considered as underserved and if they would be eligible to receive services under the Mental Health Services Act. If so, there needs to be more outreach provided to connect (or link) those in need to services that may be available.

There have also been articles in other states, such as Florida, stating that people with severe mental illness are on waiting lists due to services being provided to undocumented immigrants. However, if the community in which a certain mental health center is located is populated with undocumented immigrants, it seems that it would be effective to treat all the people in the community.

An additional difficulty when trying to fund mental health services for undocumented immigrants also lies in the strict budget limitations that the California Department of Mental Health is facing. With budget cuts being made to existing programs, the Mental Health Services Act funds appear to be getting depleted.

Unfortunately though, it seems as though the importance of mental health services for undocumented immigrants is not a top priority to fund for both state and local government spending, despite the fact that it may be a beneficial life-transforming opportunity for many undocumented immigrants.

About Maximiliano A. Molina:
University of Southern California MSW Candidate 2013

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