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Venezuelan immigrant's suicide reveals mental health crisis

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Like the thousands of immigrants who arrived in Chicago from the Texas border this summer on charter buses, 30-year-old Rona Matahary Rozo dreamed of a better life in this country for herself and her family. But the Dec. 2, she was found dead in a suburban hotel room that had been her home for nearly four months.

Rozo died by suicide, according to medical examiner records. Despite her resilience after the trip north, she had mental health issues, her sister Nefer Rozo said a local Spanish media.

In New York, two migrants committed suicide in city-run shelters, according to local authorities. A mother died in September and last week a young father died.

“(Rona Rozo’s death) could have been avoided if she had received the help she needed,” Nefer Rozo said. The family are among the group of immigrants staying at the Holiday Inn Countryside, one of the hotels that government agencies have turned into temporary accommodation for asylum seekers.

Dec. On December 12, she was buried in the Resurrection Cemetery, far from her native Venezuela.

As his family members mourn their loss, advocates fear other migrants may not have access to appropriate resources to deal with mental health issues in shelters and temporary accommodation.

The suicide deaths serve as a warning of the mental health crisis faced by emigrants living in shelters months after arriving in the country, and raise awareness of the support that needs to be provided beyond food and shelter , said Oscar Chacon, co-founder and executive director of Alienza Americasan umbrella group of immigrant-led and immigrant-serving organizations in the United States.

Nearly 4,000 migrants, mostly from Venezuela, have been bussed into Chicago since August under the Texas government. Greg Abbott’s decision to protest federal immigration policies. Most migrants endure a journey of several months through several countries before arriving at the southern border and surrendering. Many are victims of theft, abuse, rape and starvation.

A group of immigrants board a CTA bus at Union Station in Chicago to be taken to a Salvation Army shelter after arriving from Texas on August 28.  31, 2022.

These traumas are just some of the many stressors that put migrants at risk for depression, anxiety and other serious mental health problems, said Emely Ledesma, a bilingual clinical social worker at the Marjorie Kovler Center who has worked with asylum seekers and refugees for over 30 years.

She said asylum seekers often face a triple trauma paradigm: the pre-migration experience, which includes the potentially traumatic reasons why they had to leave their homes; the trip to the United States, which is usually fraught with pitfalls and dangerous conditions; and once they arrive at their destination, continued uncertainty about their safety, immigration status and separation from family.

“People who can get status here, who have a work permit, do a lot better,” Ledesma said.

But the reality is that arriving immigrants won’t be getting work permits anytime soon due to a delay in the asylum application process and a lack of lawyers willing to take on the often messy cases. , long and costly. The time migrants spend in shelters and hotels is also unknown because government agencies cannot legally connect them to jobs and therefore a more stable future, Chacon said.

“Migrants find themselves in a real conundrum because on the one hand they are allowed to come in and ask, but our laws fundamentally deny them access to the most basic right a person can have and asylum which is the right to work legally in the country,” Chacon said. “It’s a long-standing challenge that can sow confusion and despair, because for many it’s their only goal.”

While grateful for a warm place to sleep and plenty of food, some of the immigrants at the Countryside Hotel where Rozo lived, who wouldn’t share their names for fear of reprisal, described their temporary accommodation as “not favorable.” The place is far from the city, where they can communicate with other immigrants, access public transport and find jobs, they say.

Alfredo Gomez, 50, a former maintenance worker at the hotel, said most people at the hotel had been there for more than two months, and although children could spend time in the pool, there are a few other things to do. . “They seem desperate and frustrated,” he said. “They don’t know what’s going to happen next.”

In a statement, a representative of Illinois Department of Social Services, who runs the shelters, said the agency is supporting Rona Rozo’s family and “staff are committed to providing ongoing mental health support and services during this difficult time.”

“IDHS expresses its deepest condolences to the Rozo family at this time,” the statement said, but did not elaborate on the situation at the hotel and the future of the migrants remaining there.

Chicago Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez, 25, criticized the city and state’s response to the humanitarian crisis, questioning the safety and security of migrants under their shelter system. Sigcho-Lopez said he received reports of ‘migrants in distress’ and after visiting a hotel in Harvey found the migrants were isolated, in need of mental health care, schooling and other essential services.

“(The recent suicide) is tragic because I think it could have been prevented,” Sigcho-Lopez said. “When we have people committing suicide out of desperation that they can’t find any type of support or safety net and not for lack of resources – we have resources but they are not properly allocated.”

in November, Sigcho-Lopez and a group of community activists presented to Mayor Lori Lightfoot a map that would take advantage of underutilized schools, churches and community centers to provide housing and other support services to migrant families.

Before more migrants begin to lose hope of achieving some kind of stability, and as more migrants arrive in the city, Sigcho-Lopez stressed the need for city, state and of the federal government to deal with the humanitarian crisis.

“The silence of more elected officials is concerning,” he said.

Chicago city officials declined to comment.

A spokesperson for the Illinois Department of Social Services said in a statement that in the coming weeks, the focus of the temporary hotel housing mission will shift from an “urgent response focused on supporting mothers , children and families fleeing violence and persecution, providing longer-term support for the resettlement and permanent housing of migrants.

The department is implementing a resettlement plan for asylum seekers that includes housing counseling and access to expanded emergency housing assistance, according to the release.

“To promote resilience and self-reliance, the Illinois Department of Human Services (IDHS) aims to empower asylum seekers to make informed decisions about their future. This will mean closing operations temporary hoteliers in the coming months,” the statement read.

In New York, the Department of Social Services said the agency is committed to using interagency coordination to connect migrants with mental health support.

“This is an absolutely heartbreaking tragedy, and we are working with the family to support them during this incredibly difficult time,” the statement read.

Ledesma said there was “unprecedented demand” for services in the program for survivors of torture, which primarily treats asylum seekers. And more licensed clinicians and volunteer clinicians are needed to care for migrants.

Ledesma said it was important for shelter managers to be aware of signs of depression and suicidal thoughts in migrants and encourage them to seek help, even though the wait time can be long. Many people manifest their mental health issues by sleeping too long, having nightmares, constantly saying they miss their family, experiencing fatigue, and experiencing a change in mood.

“Find a community; create with each other,” Ledesma said.


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