Working Towards a Culturally Competent Practice with Mexican Immigrants

Julie Anne Laser-Maira, Elsa Campos


In this politically charged times, the plight of Mexican immigrants have been incorrectly characterized and ridiculed. We believe clinicians need to better understand who they are and how to become culturally competent to work effectively with Mexican immigrants. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (1951) defines a political refugee as “a person who owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality, and is unable to or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country…” In contrast, an economic refugee is a person seeking refugee status in another country for economic reasons. With political refugee status comes both legal and financial support by the U.S. government. However, an economic refugee is not afforded such opportunities. In the United States, there are 660,477 political refugees (Dovidio & Esses, 2001), additionally, it is estimated that there are five to eight million economic refugees who are without legal documents (Yakushko & Chronister, 2005). It is believed that of this five to eight million economic refugees, 95% are from Mexico (Yakushko & Chronister). This translates to 4,750,000 to 7,600,000 Mexican economic refugees. Though U.S. legislation has tried to control the number of economic refugees entering the country and expel economic refugees already living within its borders, the reality is that great majority of the 4,750,000 to 7,600,000 individuals are gainfully employed and will probably stay in the United States until they have earned sufficient money to be able to return to Mexico and survive economic deprivation. With such staggering numbers of economic refugees seeking the opportunity to make a living within the United States, it is becoming increasingly important to address the mental health needs of such individuals.  Although federal policy often dictates the exclusion of funding opportunities for services to economic refugees, the reality is that there is an ethical responsibility to provide services to all individuals despite legal status or country of origin.

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