Elizabeth Aranda: Research showed DACA significantly improved mental well-being
If Trump rescinds it, he will be cruelly snatching away hope for the future
Editor’s Note: Elizabeth Aranda is a professor of sociology at the University of South Florida who researches immigrants’ lives. She is the co-author of “Making a Life in Multiethnic Miami: Immigration and the Rise of a Global City.” The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.
Students at the University of South Florida, where I teach, are buzzing with excitement as they tackle a new fall semester. As someone who teaches, advises, and mentors students, I enjoy watching them explore and figure out what the term might hold for them. I’m also a sociologist who studies the lives of immigrants. For some of my students, I see that this semester is different. I’ve been in touch with one student, for example, who is feeling dread and not excitement as she begins her senior year.
My student, who probably would prefer I not use her name, is a recipient of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) – the two-year reprieve from deportation that, among other things, grants undocumented youth brought to the US as children the right to get identity papers and apply to work legally.
Having heard news that President Donald Trump may rescind DACA in coming days, my student seemed incapable of looking forward to the new school year or having any hope about what education might have in store for her.
The stakes are high if President Trump rescinds DACA. Surely such a decision would not be about hewing to the rule of law, as he recently showed that he has no qualms about actual lawbreakers: after all, he quickly pardoned former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who was convicted of criminal contempt only a month ago.
The truth is, that though Donald Trump may be approaching a DACA decision as yet another chess move in the political game of winning over his base, for many – likely most – DACA recipients, the idea that they must once again retreat into the shadows in the only country they’ve known and from which they may in fact be expelled, fills them with unbearable anxiety.
DACA has provided hundreds of thousands of young people with a taste of the rights that so many of us take for granted. But it has also improved formerly undocumented immigrants’ mental health. My own research revealed a number of young people who admitted to thinking about hurting themselves, and some who had actually done it, before DACA was implemented. They had had no hope for their futures.
Prior to the DACA program, there were even cases where undocumented youth took their own lives out of the desperation they felt when they realized they were undocumented with few options – usually a discovery they made in late adolescence.
DACA brought a psychological relief to their lives that lifted the fog of hopelessness and suicidal thoughts. My research, and that of others, shows that, for those who had contemplated ending their lives, DACA thwarted these thoughts; it gave them a new hope – that they could make something of themselves and become contributing members of our society.
They worry less about the likelihood that they will be deported and can focus their energies on excelling at school and work. It has given them a license to “be” and to belong in this country.
There is a reason that the American Psychological Association has called on the President to preserve DACA – they know what I know, that the psychological effect of ending DACA would be devastating.
Rescinding it would take many back to the times where they felt frightened and insecure at every move.
Months ago, President Trump said he would treat DACA recipients “with heart.” If he decides instead to end DACA, he will put an end to their dreams, and the actions they have taken in the last five years to realize them. In my work I’ve met many DACA students, worked with them, and admire their commitment to be productive members of society. To see DACA end would be to see the light in their eyes dim. It would be a blow to the best of American society.
Undocumented youth and young adults are indeed resilient. The ones with whom I’ve worked have a laser-like drive and an admirable work ethic. They have demonstrated the true meaning of citizenship, and in so doing, have made me a better citizen too.
President Trump should think very carefully about the intended and unintended consequences of rescinding DACA. President Trump, do you care?