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First observance of National Undocumented Mental Health Day marred by deportation of suicide-prone DREAM-eligible student

LatinaLista — The sad story of 18-year-old Joaquin Luna who committed suicide in November (2011) grabbed national headlines for a few days for one reason and one reason only — he was undocumented.

Before anyone could read the letters he left behind, his family and friends attributed his suicide to his undocumented status and the fact that Congress had not passed the DREAM Act. The “official” explanation for his motive is that “only Joaquin knows why he did it.” Yet, it’s not a big stretch for anyone to surmise that Joaquin was feeling depressed and had lost all hope to live. No matter how much his undocumented status played a part in his suicide, it can be believed that it compounded the way he felt.

Before Joaquin’s suicide, very little public or medical thought has been given to the mental toll undocumented students endure because of their status. The stress to conceal their undocumented situation, the bitter disappointment of knowing that they can never legally work which means that their life gets put on hold year after year are only two factors, among several, that can drive these young people into depression.

Some of these students find support from family and friends to be enough to get through each day, but a whole lot more don’t. The unfortunate thing is none of us ever hears about the rest of these students who so desperately need attention, until it’s too late. For that reason, the National Immigrant Youth Alliance has declared January 31st as National Undocumented Mental Health Day.

To heighten awareness that this condition is more prevalent that originally assumed, and to draw attention to one particular young undocumented student, the Alliance created the website UndocuHealth. The Alliance created the overall initiative to help Yanelli Hernandez Serrano.

Yanelli is undocumented and came to the United States at the age of 13. She is due to be deported today. Yanelli also suffers from depression and has tried to commit suicide twice while in detention. Throughout this time, she was not given the kind of treatment that a person suffering from depression needs. Instead, according to sources, she was placed in solitary confinement after her attempted suicide and “left naked with only a blanket, and placed on Prozac.”

Unfortunately, Yanelli’s mental health didn’t sway immigration officials. She was deported today back to Mexico.

Her deportation and the dismissal of her mental health status by Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials and the immigration judge send a disturbing message to other young people like Yanelli, and it reinforces a disappointing message from the White House.

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