Threats of deportation. Barriers to legal status. Banning Muslim migrants. These were just some of the proposed anti-migration policies causing increased concern across the country leading up to the 2016 presidential election. Several days before the election, representatives from the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, the Chicago School of Professional Psychology, DePaul University, and the University of Chicago, along with an undocuactivist, met to discuss the implications of the election for the safety and wellbeing of undocumented/refugee children and families. Two days after the presidential election, this core group convened 25 individuals from the local community with various backgrounds. This larger group discussed how to best develop an organized forum for people to join together to provide up-to-date information about services and resources and work toward implementing migration policy reform. This gathering was the first for the Coalition for Immigrant Mental Health (CIMH).
CIMH aims to foster a collaborative, community-based, research-informed initiative that connects individuals (regardless of their migration status) with mental health practitioners, community organizers, researchers, and allies. The organization is open to all who wish to join and has grown to almost 500 listserv members, many of whom represent various universities and disciplines across the Chicago area.
Bi-monthly meetings are held around Chicago for people to come together to share concerns, information, and resources, and to seek guidance or promote individual projects. Members also connect through the email listserv, which is primarily used to connect people to various mental health and legal services. In addition, CIMH has developed a mental health resource directory which is regularly updated and available online in English and Spanish along with an interactive map of service locations.
Convening to enact change
In November 2019, CIMH hosted its third annual conference, which was held at UChicago’s School of Social Service Administration (SSA). The theme of the conference was The Intersection of Practice, Policy, and Advocacy: Supporting the Mental Health and Wellness of Immigrant Children and Youth in response to the increasing risk of severe and long-term psychological harm on children in undocumented and refugee families. More than 200 attendees began the day with a keynote panel composed of experts in migration policy and advocacy, and mental health risks for migrant and refugee families. The rest of the day included breakout sessions focused on the in-depth intersection in the areas of education, clinical and non-clinical services and resources, and family functioning. Participants also had an opportunity to participate in Mental Health 101 and Immigration Policy 101 workshops, which served to introduce these areas to those who were new to the fields of advocacy and mental health.
"The purpose of our annual convenings is to respond to some of the needs expressed by our members throughout the year," said Ané M. Maríñez-Lora, Research Assistant Professor in the SSA and CIMH member, who co-chaired the conference. "We also take into account attendee feedback from the prior conference. Feedback from our second convening highlighted a need for up-to-date information on policy and concrete strategies to inform their advocacy and practice. Hence, for our third annual convening, we were very intentional in putting together a multidisciplinary group of folks that focused on concrete skill development and also provided attendees with take-home resources and strategies."
Planning for the future
CIMH hopes to expand its portfolio of resources, but funding is an ongoing challenge.
"One of the Coalition’s founding co-chairs, Maria Ferrera, Associate Professor at DePaul University’s School of Social Work and an SSA alumni, received internal funding from her institution, but the majority of our funding has been obtained through other institutional and departmental sponsorships,” Maríñez-Lora said. “The need is great, and each year we find it more challenging to cover the costs of providing a responsive and informative gathering for the growing numbers of attendees. For the third convening, we struggled making the decision to charge a fee to professional and non-student attendees. Many of the folks that dedicate their days to advocating and providing services to undocumented and refugee children and families are working for organizations that are financially struggling."
Reflecting CIMH’s commitment to education and advocacy, Ferrera recently wrote an op-ed in Latino Rebels stressing the urgency of providing additional resources for migrants and the need for more financial support. She also published a piece in The Hill in support of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients.
Plans for CIMH’s fourth annual convening in 2020 are currently in development and will be announced later this year. To learn more about CIMH and find out how to get involved or offer support, visit the organization’s website.