When Liliana Campos was 7 years old, she and her family crossed the border from Mexico into the United States. “There was a lot of secrecy. There was a lot of fear,” she recalls. “You hear adults tell you, ‘Don’t talk. Don’t say anything. Hide. You know something isn’t going to be safe.”
For the next 22 years, Campos lived in the shadows with no resources to help her cope with the strain of existing in legal limbo. “We didn’t have any opportunities for preventive health care,” she says. “For my family, as it is for many undocumented families, the fear of deportation is a barrier to accessing health care.”
While studying psychology at California State University, Long Beach, Campos began to think about the impact undocumented status was having on the health of immigrants like herself. She became a health educator for student Dreamers -- young undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children.
As a member of the California Psychological Association’s Immigrant Task Force, today Campos helps train immigration attorneys, social workers, and mental health professionals who work with immigrants and refugees. “An example could be an immigration attorney who’s working with a family that has applied for a visa that requires them to be a survivor of a particular crime,” she says. “People may not want to share details, but knowing the details could help with the case. ... How do we do it in a sensitive way?”
She also works as a mental health advocate for Immigrants Rising, an organization that empowers young undocumented immigrants to achieve their educational and career goals. For many of the people she works with, it’s the first time anyone has addressed their fears and anxieties.
“Folks shared with me that they had never thought they could think of themselves outside of their undocumented legal status,” she said. “They said, ‘Wow, I never knew that I was experiencing depression.”
Being able to share her personal story has given her a special connection with the people she helps. “That allows for trust to happen very quickly. I think our communities don’t trust health care providers a lot of the time.”
Campos has had lawful permanent resident status (LPR) since receiving a U Visa a few years ago. She’s currently a doctoral candidate in clinical psychology at the University of San Francisco and is applying for internships with university medical centers where she can continue her work with immigrant communities.
“My hope and dream is that we can find a sense of liberation in our wellness and our political voice,” she says. “Whether or not we get legal status, I think it’s an ongoing healing journey for many people who experience oppression.”