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Immigration Policies Affect Mental Health Of Undocumented Immigrants, Researcher Says

panelists at a conference
Erin O'Brien
Panelists Daniel Martinez and Elizabeth Aranda answer questions about immigration policy.

Immigration laws pushed by the Trump administration are having significant impacts on the psychological well-being of young people in America and sometimes can even lead to suicidal behavior, a researcher from the University of South Florida said.

Findings from the Immigrant Youth Project, which looked at immigrant well-being after the the Trump administration recinded the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy, or DACA, were presented at a symposium in Ybor City on Friday.

Elizabeth Aranda, a sociology professor at USF, presented data from the project. Information was gathered from immigrants between 18 and 30-years-old during the years after President Trump rescinded DACA.

“Even though DACA recipients can still renew DACA, the rescission itself, coupled with the anti-immigrant discourse in the country, really has demoralizing outcomes,” Aranda said.

Undocumented immigrants have reacted and coped with the elimination of DACA in a different ways, Aranda said.

“We did find some cases where people talked about thinking about suicide,” she said. “In fact, we had one participant whose brother actually attempted suicide when he found out about the rescission.”

Others have taken to social media to voice their disapproval or protested with others who felt the same way.

DACA allows immigrants who were brought to the United States illegally as children the abilty to apply to stay in the country. They have to meet certain requirements and are able to reapply every two years. Those who were already approved can renew every two years, but the program is no longer taking new applicants.  

Without DACA, immigrants who are in the country can no longer legally work. That has an impact on the economy, the study found. 
“National surveys show that DACA empowered young adults to be able to buy cars and purchase homes, of course, that fuels the economy. So it's a win-win program, not just for them individually, but for us as a society,” Aranda said. “People think of it as an individual benefit, but it does benefit society at large when you see what they contribute.”

A nationwide survey conducted by United We Dream, The Center for American Progress and the National Immigration Law Center indicated that 95 percent of DACA recipients were working or attending school, 63 percent got a better paying job, 54 percent bought their first car and 12 percent bought their first home, Aranda said.

Still, many immigrants who have taken steps to assimilate feel like they don't belong because of the political climate towards immigration, Aranda said.  That has to do with their racial and ethnic status and the marginalization they feel in public places, she said.

Erin O’Brien is a WUSF/USF Zimmerman School digital news intern for summer 2019.