Kids and DACA: When parents are safe, their children feel safe

Kids and DACA: When parents are safe, their children feel safe

Health and Safety

Kids and DACA: When parents are safe, their children feel safe


Gerson Gonzalez, his son and wife outside their family home. Gonzalez entered the country when he was 15. He is a DACA recipient. Credit: Cheryl Evans/The Arizona Republic

President Donald Trump ended the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program this week, which provided protections for about 800,000 undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children by their parents or guardians.

By “protections,” we’re talking things like the ability to get a job, go to school, get a driver’s license, not be deported, etc.

In a break from the norm, former President Barack Obama, who issued the DACA executive order in 2012, responded to the decision in a Facebook statement. But that’s another story.

What we really need to talk about

Now, we’ve heard a lot in the past few years about illegal immigration and the approximately 11 million immigrants who don’t have legal status residing in the U.S.

After all, immigration was a cornerstone of Trump’s campaign.

But what we don’t often hear about is the fact that some of these DACA recipients are old enough to have children of their own. Children who were born here, in the U.S.

One study puts the number at about 4 million, actually.

And regardless of how you may feel about immigration, illegal immigration or the legality of Obama’s executive order (which Trump intends to rescind), maybe we can all at least agree that it really sucks that two generations of immigrants are now being punished for a decision that was entirely out of their control.

Even Trump stated as much.

It’s particularly heartbreaking that now the children of DACA recipients will live not in fear of deportation for themselves, but in fear of deportation for their parents – at least for the next six months, while Congress works on passing legislation to replace DACA.

Think about that. These are kids who were born in this country to adults who were brought to this country as kids. 

And DACA is going to negatively impact their mental health.

Students in Manhattan listen to the DACA announcement on Sept. 5, 2017. Credit: Kevin Wexler

recently released Science Magazine study focused specifically on the DACA program found “that mothers’ eligibility for DACA protection led to a significant improvement in their children’s mental health.”

The study, released Aug. 31, took Medicaid-claim data from Oregon and compared the rate of anxiety- and adjustment-disorder diagnoses between children of immigrant mothers protected by DACA and children of immigrant mothers not protected by DACA.

It found:

  • 7.9 percent of children whose mothers were not eligible for DACA were diagnosed with anxiety and adjustment disorders

Compared with:

  • 4.3 percent of children whose mothers were eligible for DACA were diagnosed with anxiety and adjustment disorders

That’s nearly a 50 percent difference.

With these same children, there were no “discernible differences” in their mental-health diagnoses before DACA, the study said.

This isn’t a surprise

Ylenia Agular, a formerly undocumented mother of two, comments. Credit: Duke Photography

Ylenia Aguilar is a formerly undocumented mother of two who became a citizen in 2014 and now serves as a school board member in her children’s district in Arizona.

She also works as a freelance interpreter in the medical industry and criminal justice system, where she said she often hears and interprets the stories of other undocumented people.

“I am absolutely not surprised (at the study’s results),” Aguilar said. “As someone who lived in the shadows for most of my childhood and was the daughter of an undocumented woman and (a) victim of violence, this is not shocking.

“Mental instability is in line with the experience of  an undocumented person,” she said.

Aguilar said she isn’t confident Congress will get legislation passed in the next six months, but she’s hopeful.

Immigration reform is much needed, she said.

So, all in all, here’s what we’ve learned from the Science Magazine study:

“Parents’ unauthorized status is … a substantial barrier to normal child development and perpetuates health inequalities through the intergenerational transmission of disadvantage.”

That may sound complicated, but really it’s not rocket science.

When kids’ parents are safe, they feel safe.

When we protect families, we protect children.

Call me crazy, but I think protecting the youth’s mental health is an American value we should all get behind.


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