Study Shows Kids Of DACA Parents Have Better Mental Health Outcomes

Published: Thursday, August 31, 2017 - 4:32pm

As the Trump administration weighs the fate of nearly 800,000 undocumented immigrants protected under the Deferred Action for Child Arrivals program, a new study reveals the program's effects on their children.

"So the question is, essentially, 'What happens to the children of undocumented mothers when the mothers become eligible for protection from deportation?'" said Jens Hainmueller of Stanford University's Immigration Policy Lab.

Hainmueller led the study, which appeared this week in the journal Science.

DACA recipients might have arrived in the U.S. as minors, but they're old enough now to have their own children — an estimated 200,000 U.S. citizens up to 12 years old.

To find out how DACA affects them, researchers compared Medicaid records of adjustment and anxiety disorders for children of eligible and non-eligible parents.

The researchers noted a 50 percent drop in the rate of those disorders in children whose mothers are protected by DACA.

"We find that, as mothers become eligible, through this DACA program, for protection from deportation, the mental health of their children improves quite dramatically," said Hainmueller.

Anxiety disorders cause worry or fear powerful enough to interfere with daily functioning.

Adjustment disorder is a severely negative reaction to a source of stress, such as a surviving a disaster, witnessing marital problems or living in a rough neighborhood. People with anxiety disorders might experience anxiety and depression, act recklessly and struggle to cope.

Hainmueller said the researchers focused on these disorders because they are linked to external stressors.

"What that means is that the pediatrician, who often makes the diagnosis, would say that this mental health disorder is because of stress or because of fear of separation from the parents; it's not something that would be driven primarily by biological factors or other unknown factors, like many other mental health diagnoses."

Hainmueller said that DACA families might experience less stress concerning possible deportation and, because they are eligible to work and study, might suffer less anxiety regarding income or job security. But the study's results could not nail down such fine details.

He added that childhood mental health problems can create long-term societal multiplier effects by worsening educational, social and economic prospects.

"These early mental health disorders are really very important, if you think about setting these kids up for future success or failure."

Hainmueller hopes that the study will contribute to a more evidence-based approach to policymaking.

"Evidence often doesn't translate into policy, one-to-one, obviously, but at least it's good to have the evidence to make more informed decisions."

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