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MPA Statement on Executive Orders Regarding Refugees, Immigrants, and other Visitors to the U.S.

Thursday, February 16, 2017  
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MPA Statement on Executive Orders Regarding Refugees, Immigrants, and other Visitors to the United States

The Massachusetts Psychological Association represents 1,700 psychologists in Massachusetts in carrying out our mission to advance psychology as a science, as a profession, and as a means of promoting human welfare. We strongly condemn President Trump's executive order dated January 27, 2017, which creates extensive, and in some cases indefinite, limitations on the admission of refugees and other visitors from specific countries, and the executive order dated January 25, 2017, which makes it easier to deport immigrants. Consistent with the American Psychological Association's press release dated February 1, 2017, we view such actions as very likely to increase stress and trauma among vulnerable populations, limit scientific progress, and increase the likelihood of discrimination and stigma.

A wealth of research has documented the stress, trauma, and other mental health issues experienced by refugees, particularly those who are fleeing a war.1, 2  In addition, refugees already complete an extensive vetting process, involving the United Nations, State Department, Homeland Security, F.B.I., and Immigration Services.3 To now reject those who have undergone this process, and to make such a ban indefinite in nature, will be a cause of significant suffering for a group that has already endured so much.

Our educational systems and scientific endeavors are also harmed by these orders because of the number of international students, researchers, and faculty members who are impacted. We risk losing vital intellectual capital and contributions, both present and future, when these individuals experience uncertainty about their future and place in our country. For example, the president of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has written that more than 40% of their faculty and graduate students, and 10% of their undergraduate students, are internationally born,4 and they are already seeing increased fear and uncertainty among those members of their community.5 We already know that discrimination and anti-immigrant attitudes have a significant negative impact on the lives of immigrants and refugees, and on their ability to integrate into existing communities.2, 6 Orders that target specific populations, such as immigrants, refugees, and those from specific countries, further isolate and alienate members of those populations by reinforcing already existing stereotypes and stigmas. In addition, such reactions are likely to extend to other populations that share similar characteristics, such that the negative impact of these orders radiates far beyond the intended group.5   

Finally, orders such as this have the effect of increasing stress and fear among those who identify with vulnerable populations, regardless of their current protections or status, because it leads to a sense of reduced safety and freedom.2, 5 Massachusetts' psychologists have already begun to see this manifested in their clients, in the form of increased rates of anxiety, depression and stress related to perceptions of safety and potential loss of freedoms. Given that these policies were issued only 3 weeks ago, such an increase is very alarming and concerning, and will only worsen the longer such orders are in effect.

Massachusetts has a long history of championing the rights of vulnerable populations, from being the first state to legalize same-sex marriage to crafting the first plan for statewide universal health insurance coverage. At MPA we will continue to advocate for policies on both the state and federal level that are founded on scientific data, and that take into account the significant impact they can have on mental health. 

Jennifer Warkentin, Ph.D.
MPA Director of Professional Affairs 
(781) 263-0080 x 21
1 Porter, M. & Haslam, N. (2005). Pre-displacement and post-displacement factors associated with mental health of refugees and internally displaced persons. Journal of the American Medical Association, 294, 602-612.
2 American Psychological Association, Task Force on the Psychosocial Effects of War on Children and Families   Who are Refugees from Armed Conflict Residing in the United States. (2009). Working with refugee children and families: Update for mental health professionals. Retrieved from
Park, H., & Buchanan, L. (2017, January 29). Refugees entering the U.S. already face a rigorous vetting process. The New York Times. Retrieved from
Reif, L. R. (2017, January 30). Letter to the community: Update regarding executive order, thoughts on moving forward. MIT News. Retrieved from
Bradt, S. (2017, January 30). MIT responds to Trump's executive order on travel. MIT News. Retrieved from
American Psychological Association, Presidential Task Force on Immigration. (2012). Crossroads: The psychology of immigration in the new century. Retrieved from 

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