Some 700,000 young immigrants will apparently spend the next six months in limbo, waiting to see whether the program that allowed them to live and work here will be written into law or be allowed to expire, potentially sending them to countries they barely know.
California is home to about 1 in 4 undocumented immigrants covered by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. As an academic pediatrician who does research on immigrant children and provides them medical care, I see the broader implications of DACA almost every day.
DACA recipients and their kids are part of a growing number of families in which at least one parent was born outside the United States. Currently, 1 in 4 children who are citizens lives in an immigrant family, and this number is expected to grow to 1 in 3 by 2050.
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The children of DACA recipients are U.S. citizens by birth, but not infrequently, undocumented parents tell me that they have made arrangements to transfer legal custody of their children to friends in case they are deported. There is probably no greater fear in childhood than losing one’s parents, and eliminating the fear of deportation, as DACA has done, can improve the development and mental health of these children.
In a study recently published in Science and led by Stanford’s Immigration Policy Lab, my co-authors and I found proof of this in Medicaid data from Oregon. After DACA was introduced, the percentage of children with adjustment and anxiety disorders dropped from 7.8 percent to 3.3 percent among those whose mothers were eligible.
This is the only social factor in children’s health I know of that can be changed by a legislative action. Congress has the chance to give immigrant parents the stability they need to raise their children without fear, and continue contributing to our country. Let’s hope our lawmakers act quickly.
Fernando S. Mendoza is dean of minority advising and programs and a professor of pediatrics at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital at Stanford University. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.