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September 17, 2017

Penn Medicine researcher highlights health dangers of ending DACA

As backlash continues against the Trump administration's plans to end DACA, a new essay co-authored by a Penn Medicine researcher predicts the change in policy will have a negative impact on the mental health of the nearly 800,000 whose lives the DACA termination would reach.

President Barack Obama signed DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) into executive order in 2012, protecting young undocumented immigrants born after June 15, 1981, who were brought to the U.S. as children aged 16 and under. Since then, several studies have pointed to the improved mental health of the children and families this policy has helped.

The essay, co-authored by Penn doctor and researcher Atheendar S. Venkataramani, posits that the end of DACA poises the U.S. for a massive public health crisis.

“DACA was not a public health program by design,” Venkataramani said. “But numerous studies have shown that implementing it had positive effects on mental health that truly rival those from large-scale health policies.”

Another study, recently published in Science Magazine, pulled data from the Emergency Medicaid program in Oregon to find that anxiety disorders among the children of DACA-eligible mothers fell by more than half after the start of DACA.

“Health care and public health professionals now have a limited window of opportunity to engage policymakers about protecting dreamers through legislative action, with an emphasis on the potentially dire mental health consequences of failing to enact a definitive legal remedy,” Venkataramani said.

With the threat of DACA’s termination in 2018, Venkataramani notes that not only could mental health problems be more numerous and dire, but that those deportable immigrants will be less likely to seek treatment for mental health problems.

In this case, it’s important that healthcare organizations be proactive about reaching and informing undocumented immigrants of their health care.

Read the full essay in the New England Journal of Medicine.

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