A Project of the Child Trends News Service Supported by the National Science Foundation

DACA: Protecting Kids’ Mental Health

For 29-year-old Monique, time with her 2-year-old Talina is precious. Monique lives every day with a nagging fear that her family will someday be torn apart.

Monique explains, “I’m actually scared. If I get deported, what would happen with her?” Monique was about Talina’s age when her father, Miguel, uprooted his family to escape the crime and gangs in her Mexican hometown.

“Our parents brought us here because they fear for our lives and 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.

Dr. Jens Hainmueller, a researcher at Stanford University’s Immigration Policy Lab, explains, “It’s the first study where we can really confidently isolate the effect of the DACA eligibility of the mothers on the mental health of the children.”

The social science research team, led by Stanford University’s Policy Lab, analyzed claims data from over 8,000 children whose moms who 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, one was that this drop was very, very large,” says Hainmueller.

Immigration attorney Valicia Trowbridge explains, “They know that because of the protections that are 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. “That day I was in the hospital, he said, ‘Keep on dreaming. Don’t let this keep you from pursuing your dreams.’”

For Monique, the dream is a happily-ever-after in the U.S. with her family.

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