Undocumented Anxiety

Liliana Campos Ramales PsyD ’20 counsels those who live in fear

By ARVIN TEMKAR, USF NEWS Posted Wed, 03/14/2018 - 08:54

Liliana Campos Ramales PsyD ’20 won’t graduate for another two years, but she already knows the types of patients she wants to work with as a psychologist —undocumented residents, who face constant fear of being discovered and deported. 

This fear can lead to anxiety, withdrawal, and depression, says Ramales, a clinical psychology doctoral student. Moreover, undocumented residents may undergo unnecessary suffering to avoid being discovered. For example, an undocumented worker injured in the workplace may not report it to their employer or go to the hospital, out of fear they’ll be exposed. That could lead to lasting physical — and potentially mental — consequences.

“Families endure a lot of pain,” says Ramales. 

Understand students’ needs

For her dissertation, Ramales plans to talk to undocumented USF students about their fears of deportation and their experiences living in constant uncertainty. She hopes her findings will allow universities more broadly to better understand the needs of the population and to offer more tailored services. 

“Just allowing undocumented young people to tell their stories in a safe space can help them heal,” she says. Which is why, outside of her research, Ramales partners with the university’s Task Force to Support Undocumented Students to help students build solidarity, find support, and learn coping strategies to deal with discrimination and the fear of deportation. 

Ramales was undocumented when she began applying to doctoral programs, so was ineligible for most financial aid. She found support at USF. The School of Nursing and Health Professions worked with Ramales one-on-one to secure a scholarship — the Dean Karshmer Academic Merit Fund, for students who maintain a 3.9 GPA. 

The scholarship covers Ramales’ first two years of school. It’s the first time she’s attended school without also having to work multiple jobs to pay the bills. And last semester, through an immigration attorney, Ramales secured a visa making her a legal U.S. resident. 

USF empowered me

She’s enjoyed her clinical student rotations at psychiatric units of local hospitals and at nonprofits, where she often has the opportunity to work with undocumented patients, providing therapy and medical assessments. Each week she travels with Santa Clara Valley Medical Center’s SALUDos mobile clinic to migrant camps in Gilroy, California to provide psychological services to migrant farmworkers. 

And she’s found a mentor in School of Education Professor Genevieve Negron-Gonzalez — who co-founded the Task Force to Support Undocumented Students and whose own academic work focuses largely on the undocumented community. 

“To be able to just study and work on issues that are important to me has empowered me as a person, a professional, and a student,” Ramales says. “I really can’t imagine myself at another institution.”

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