RSF Grantees Explore Effects of DACA on the Mental Health of Children

August 31, 2017

Source: Flickr / Molly Adams

In 2012, the Obama administration implemented Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), a policy granting work permits and protection from deportation to undocumented immigrants who had entered the country before age 16. According to the Immigration Policy Lab at Stanford University, DACA marked the largest immigration reform in the U.S. since the mid-1980s and today covers about 800,000 immigrants. While early evidence suggests that DACA has led to a number of improved economic and health outcomes for immigrant families, the fate of the program now hangs in the balance as the Trump administration, which has repeatedly called for stricter immigration policies, weighs whether to suspend it. 

Science magazine has released a new paper based on research supported by the Russell Sage Foundation. In their study, an interdisciplinary team of researchers, including RSF grantees Jens Hainmueller, Duncan Lawrence, Tomás Jiménez, Fernando Mendoza, and David Laitin (Stanford University), examined rates of mental health disorders among the U.S.-born children of DACA recipients. Using data from Oregon’s Emergency Medicaid, the researchers tracked over 5,600 immigrant mothers born just before and after the DACA eligibility cutoff (June 15, 1981) and looked at a range of stress-related mental health issues among their children, such as anxiety disorder and adjustment disorder. Before the introduction of DACA, children born to mothers on either side of the cutoff date were diagnosed with these disorders at about the same rate. But after DACA, the rate of stress-related mental illness among children born to DACA-eligible mothers dropped by more than fifty percent.

As co-author Duncan Lawrence notes, “Our results imply that expanding deferred action, or providing more permanent protection, to the millions of unauthorized immigrants parents who do not meet the current DACA eligibility criteria could equally promote the well-being of their children.”

Read the article in Science.

Read the policy brief from the Immigration Policy Lab.


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