By Milenko Martinovich
A new study sheds light on the impact of rescinding the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program on immigrant mothers and their children’s health.
The Trump administration’s recent decision to end the DACA program, which granted protection from deportation to unauthorized immigrants who entered the United States as minors, affects roughly 800,000 immigrants.
Imagine “having the father leave in the morning, and always thinking, ‘will this be the last time I see him?’”
Terminating DACA may also have perilous consequences for the children of those DREAMers, however, according to a new study in Science. Researchers found that the protections offered by DACA can drastically enhance health outcomes for those children.
Researchers looked at a large sample of immigrant mothers born just before and after the cutoff date for DACA eligibility, and then followed their children’s health over time. After DACA was introduced in 2012, the group eligible for the program saw an immediate improvement in their children’s mental health: diagnoses of adjustment and anxiety disorders fell by more than 50 percent.
Here, two of the study’s authors—Jens Hainmueller, a professor of political science at Stanford University, and Fernando Mendoza, a professor of pediatrics—discuss the impact of ending DACA on the children of immigrant mothers protected by the program.
So far, policymakers and the press have mostly considered DACA recipients as individuals, focusing on their ability to work or pursue higher education, for example, but failing to appreciate how deeply the threat of separation affects the entire family.
A child diagnosed with these disorders can be depressed and withdrawn, be unable to complete schoolwork, lash out at classmates and teachers, behave recklessly, and have trouble sleeping. These are conditions that significantly impair daily functioning and interfere with children’s psychological and emotional development.
Mendoza: One of the greatest stresses to children is the loss of a parent by death, divorce, or in this case, deportation. However, in the case of deportation, the level of stress is heightened by the uncertainty of the event.
Think about a young child going to school one day and returning home and not finding their mother. Or having the father leave in the morning, and always thinking, “will this be the last time I see him?” This is the current status of 4 million children who have one undocumented parent. This is the stress and uncertainty that DACA was able to relieve.
By curbing acute anxiety in young children, programs like DACA could have cascade effects in improving health and other outcomes across the lifespan. In addition, there are significant implications for costs given that childhood mental health disorders account for the lion’s share of pediatric health care spending in the US.
What’s more, the improvement in these children was nearly instantaneous, emerging in the data as soon as the DACA program was introduced. It’s not every day that public policy has such an immediate effect.
Mendoza: These diagnoses were made by physicians and were independent of access to health care or other social factors. Thus, DACA in itself had a direct effect on these conditions.
Hainmueller: Our study shows that unauthorized immigration status directly contributes to health disparities, and that these disparities can be passed down from parents to children. Our colleagues in the medical field see this in their clinics, and we as data scientists see it in the patterns we uncover in Medicaid claims. In the absence of sound policies, there’s a perpetuation of disadvantage that depletes the health and human capital of not only unauthorized immigrants but also their US citizen children.
Unlike other social determinants of health, however, this is an area where a relatively straightforward policy action—offering protection from deportation—can make dramatic and swift improvements in population health.
Now that legislators are weighing their options in the wake of the Trump administration’s decision to rescind DACA protections, few are taking this wider view of the policy because interdisciplinary research like ours is only just now starting to paint the full picture and provide rigorous, causal evidence that goes beyond the correlations we have seen between unauthorized status and outcomes.
Featured Image: After seven days, Cincinnati, Ohio resident, DACA recipient and mother Riccy Enriquez Perdomo is released from federal custody on August 24, 2017. Photo Credit: The Enquirer/Sam Greene
Source: Stanford University