When U.S.-born kids whose parents are undocumented immigrants know their moms won’t be deported, they are dramatically less worried and stressed.
That is the chief conclusion of a study published by the journal Science on Thursday, as the Trump administration deliberates whether to eliminate Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, an Obama-era program that is shielding nearly 800,000 undocumented immigrants from deportation.
A later attempt by President Barack Obama to extend deportation relief to millions more undocumented immigrants who have children born in the United States was blocked in federal court. And a coalition of conservative Republican officials is threatening to challenge DACA in court as well, if the Trump administration doesn’t commit by next week to phasing it out.
During his campaign, President Trump pledged to end DACA, calling it an unconstitutional abuse of executive authority. But the president has since spoken highly of DACA recipients who have gone to college and succeeded in launching careers in this country. He suggested in April that DACA recipients could “ “rest easy.”
The roughly 11 million undocumented immigrants who live in the United States are parents to more than 4 million children who were born in this country and are citizens, according to the report, whose lead author was Stanford University political scientist Jens Hainmueller.
The study looked at Medicaid-claims data for the children of 5,600 undocumented women from Oregon who were born between 1980 and 1982, a time span that includes mothers born too soon to be eligible for DACA and those who do qualify. Those women gave birth to more than 8,600 children from 2003 to 2015.
Using the Medicaid claims, the researchers examined which children had received diagnoses of mental-health issues between 2013 and 2015, comparing claims for children whose mothers were eligible for DACA against those whose mothers were not.
“Because DACA offered the mothers immediate relief from the risk of deportation, maternal stress might have declined and their children would no longer have had to fear being separated from them,” the report said. “Therefore, the children’s mental well-being could have improved.”
The researchers found that 3.6 percent of the children whose mothers were eligible for deportation relief were diagnosed with adjustment and anxiety disorders, compared to 7.9 percent of the children whose mothers were not DACA-eligible — a drop of more than 50 percent.
“Protecting unauthorized immigrants from deportation led to immediate and sizable improvements in the mental health of their U.S. citizen children,” the report said. “This suggests that parents’ unauthorized status is a substantial stressor that stymies normal child development and perpetuates health inequalities by transferring parental disadvantages to children.”
Citing a growing body of research that demonstrates links between parents’ immigration status and their children’s health and development, the report says that barriers faced by children of illegal immigrants go beyond socioeconomic challenges to include parental anxiety, fear of separation and the stress of adapting to a new culture. The report notes that anxiety and stress are identified risk factors for depression, substance abuse, cardiovascular disease and obesity.
“Expanding deferred action to the millions of unauthorized immigrant parents who do not meet the current DACA eligibility criteria could further promote the health and well-being of this next generation of American citizens,” the report said.