U.S. lawmakers are scheduled to vote soon on DACA, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. Since its inception, DACA has given 800,000 young dreamers a safety net from deportation. Now new research indicates the program may have an impact on the mental health of the next generation.
For 29-year-old Monique, time with her two-year old daughter Talina is precious. Monique lives every day with a nagging fear that her family will someday be torn apart.
“I’m actually scared if I get deported. What would happen with her,” said Monique.
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Monique was about Talina’s age when her father Miguel uprooted his family to escape the crime and gangs in her Mexican hometown.
Monique detailed, “Our parents brought us here because they feared for our lives. They want a better future. Like any other parent would want for their children.”
Since 2015, Monique has been protected from deportation under DACA. But during her early childhood, Monique never knew her parents were undocumented. Now a new study reveals that children these days are highly aware of their parents’ immigration status and it may be affecting their mental health.
“It’s the first study where we can really confidently isolate the effect of the DACA eligibility of the mother on the mental health of the children,” said Jens Hainmueller, PhD, a researcher at the Immigration Policy Lab at Stanford University.
The social science research team lead by Stanford University’s policy lab, analyzed claims data from over 8,000 children whose moms participated in Oregon’s Emergency Medicaid Program --- frequently used by undocumented mothers. They compared the children of women born just before and after the cutoff date for DACA eligibility. For the women who qualified for DACA, their children’s mental health issues, like stress and anxiety, decreased by 50 percent.
“What was surprising to us about the results was this drop was very, very large,” said Hainmueller.
Immigration attorney Valicia Trowbridge said, “Kids know because of the protection that is granted by DACA that their parents are safe.”
Monique’s father was working to obtain his U.S. visa, but was stricken with cancer and died before it was granted.
Monique said, “That day I was in the hospital and he said keep on dreaming. Don’t let this stop you from pursuing your dreams.”
For Monique, the dream is a happily ever after in the U.S. with her family.
Researchers say that kids pick up on parental stress. If your child is exhibiting signs of stress or anxiety, don’t ignore it. Speak to a school counselor or a pediatrician, and if you know someone affected by DACA, experts suggest having them contact an immigration attorney for help. They may now qualify for a more permanent form of relief.