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Tummala-Narra brings immigration report to Capitol Hill

Nearly 40 million immigrants live in the United States—more than one in 10 people. But Pratyusha Tummala-Narra, an assistant professor in the Counseling, Developmental, and Educational Psychology Department, says researchers, educators, clinicians, and policy makers don’t always understand why some immigrants find it easier to acclimate to American culture than others, what factors contribute to a smoother transition, and which subpopulations are especially at risk, such as women and children.

“There are many gaps in research with immigrant populations that really need to be filled, both in terms of education and mental health,” says Tummala-Narra. “And we regularly implement policies in terms of education and health care that do not consider existing research with immigrant children and adults.”

To stock some of those gaps and influence immigration policy, Tummala-Narra served on the American Psychological Association’s six-member 2011 Presidential Task Force on Immigration, charged with examining the psychological health, support systems, and services available to American newcomers at the nexus of two cultures.

The task force released its 124-page report, “Crossroads: The Psychology of Immigration in the New Century,” in March. In May, Tummala-Narra traveled to Washington, D.C., with fellow co-authors of the report to present key findings to House and Senate leaders working on immigration policies.

“Crossroads” addresses the psychological experience of immigration, paying particular attention to the mental and behavioral health needs of immigrants over time, according to its executive summary. It makes more than two dozen recommendations, among them increased funding and collaboration for service providers and research into how people from different cultures define their own well-being. “Crossroads” also recommends that psychological service providers understand how different community settings (such as schools or neighborhoods) affect the way people relate to their development of relationships, acquisition of language, and how they identify themselves.

“What this report does is highlight the existing research, but also the gaps in research,” Tummala-Narra says. “It’s meant to be used with as many people as there are working with immigrants.”

In Washington, task force members highlighted disparities in education and mental health policies and outcomes for immigrants, and delivered fact sheets and executive summaries of its findings, Tummala-Nara says.

Tummala-Narra, who joined the Lynch School of Education faculty in 2009, was able to draw on her previous research with South Asian immigrants and her experience as a practicing psychologist working with a broader range of first- and second-generation immigrant groups.

But not all of her relevant experiences were professional.

“I arrived in the United States from India when I was seven years old,” she says. “This was a transforming moment in my life. One of the things I really learned from being an immigrant and growing up in an immigrant family and community is that there’s much of our experience that is invisible to the mainstream. One of the goals, personally, that I have is to bring those experiences into a visible light.”