Immigration Reform Checkmate: DACA and Mental Health

"... we have no intention of ever going to conference on the Senate bill." - John Boehner

The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA) places the GOP in somewhat of an electoral checkmate: The House GOP can't continue to block immigration reform and have their presidential candidates oppose the DACA program and expect to garner more Hispanic/Asian votes than they did in 2012. Indeed, the only way the GOP could remove DACA as a 2016 issue is if the House GOP passes immigration reform. By blocking a vote and allowing more families to be separated by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) everyday, the GOP is putting any chance of winning the White House on ice.

DACA will sunset once President Obama leaves office. Assuming the GOP doesn't support the current discharge petition and continues to block immigration reform through 2016, the 2016 presidential candidates would have to go on record on their support or opposition to DACA. Over 500,000 Dreamers have utilized DACA already, and many more will by 2016. Unfortunately, about 500,000 who qualify for DACA haven't applied. That's why I'm trying to start a free DACA clinic at my university to help DACAmented students in the DFW area who need to renew DACA before the two-year expiration, and to help Dreamers who haven't applied for DACA do so. I encourage immigration reform supporters at other universities around the country to do the same. These free clinics save Dreamers the $500-600 in legal advice, and some can help them afford the $465 application fee. The more Dreamers who have DACA, the more consequential it will be in the election, and this will put more pressure on the GOP to pass immigration reform (because no one honestly believes a Republican president would continue DACA).

(Use this interactive map by the Brookings Institution to view DACA applicants state-by-state in 2013.)

(Use this Pocket DACA smartphone app for information on applying for DACA.)

Civil Rights for $465

The repeal of DADT allowed LGBT to come out without fearing removal from their military, and DACA has allowed Dreamers to come out of the undocumented closet without fearing deportation from their home.

Ana Roman, a Psychology major like myself, said: "Before DACA, I wasn't so sure about what I was going to do with my degree." But now with her driver's license and social security number, she says that DACA has given her the "freedom to give back, to do as much as I can to my fullest potential. That's the best thing I've got from DACA."

Manny Diaz said that since receiving DACA: "It seems like everything is different. My whole identity has shifted." Manny intends to use his experience and passion for film to get kids interested "in their own sense of wonder."

According to the Immigration Policy Center, 61 percent of DACAmented residents have obtained a driver's license and a new job thanks to DACA work permits, 54 percent have opened a bank account, and 38 percent have obtained a credit card. Those applying for college are able to get in-state tuition in many cases with DACA, and because they now have a social security number, they can also apply for the FAFSA. Although they are not eligible for federal aid, Lauren Burke of Atlas DIY explains that schools will still use their FAFSA to determine how much aid they're willing to provide. Overall, it has provided them a chance at a normal life; a two-year sampling of the life they have been denied for far too long.

This two-year "sampling" means Dreamers who received DACA when it started in 2012 will have to renew their temporary rights in 2014. The next renewal would be 2016, on the cusp of the presidential election. If a Republican wins in 2016 and the GOP have blocked immigration reform, then all those Dreamers who used DACA could wake up in January 2017 having lost all sense of security in their livelihood, and research has shown the consequences of this stress on mixed families.

(Dreamers can find other financial assistance here.)

Mental Health Consequences of Deportation

A 2012 report by Anna Lopez and Ioana Boie found that depression and anxiety were among the issues related to family separation. Reporting by Johanes Rosello stated that depression was the most common diagnosis when families are separated. Mothers are often left with the financial burden of supporting the family, and the emotional burden of trying to explain to their son/daughter why daddy isn't coming home.

Children are the most innocent victims of Republicans' inaction. A study by the Urban Institute revealed that 49 percent of children aged 6-11 and 48 percent aged 12-17 display three or more behavioral changes nine months following parental separation. These include sleeping and eating problems, crying, fear and anxiety, co-dependence, withdrawal, and anger/aggression. This is in no way ameliorated by the fact that mixed-families report a 53-percent decrease in their weekly income when one parent has been deported. This means that children have to become adults -- skipping school to work extra hours to support the family, cooking for siblings while malnourished, and helping siblings with homework while neglecting their own.

A mother of a high-school graduate described how the separation affected her daughter, stating that she "...had already passed her exam... [colleges] were already calling her by telephone...[because] they saw that she was a good student... [saying] that they were going to help her... but, well, everything came down after that day and they did not want to go [to school]."

Another woman facing economic hardship contemplated separating the children between countries, saying, "I'm going to take either two or three children to Guatemala." It's not uncommon for mixed-families to send one child to be with a parent outside the United States, particularly the American-born child because that child can travel freely between countries to visit a parent who has been deported.

Despite the need for health care services, many in mixed-families were reluctant to seek coverage under Obamacare before the March 31 deadline. They feared that their information may lead to the deportation of an undocumented family member if they applied. President Obama tried to mitigate those concerns in March, stating that "people should not hold back just because they're in a mixed-family status." Those assurances were less than efficacious in California, as Asian enrollment surpassed Hispanic enrollment, even though the Hispanic population is three times larger.

This distrust with the Obama administration is associated with the soaring deportations, mostly following non-violent crimes, a bed mandate requiring that 34,000 undocumented residents be detained at all times, and impatience with the administration's refusal to expand DACA (until the administration announced a review of its deportation policy).

Discharge Petition: Change the Political Calculus

I concluded my discharge petition article stating that Republicans "have to be accountable to voters whose civil rights are at stake" and that "Democratic activists must press our House leaders to begin Discharge Petitions... This is how we ensure people know who supports and who opposes their desire to have greater equality, even if Boehner refuses to give our civil rights a vote."

On Wednesday March 26, we finally saw the efforts of millions of activists (particularly TNTweeters) turn into something tangible in the U.S. House of Representatives, as House Democrats started the discharge petition for immigration reform. As of today, every Republican in the House has voted against immigration reform whereas 95 percent of House Democrats have voted for it. I hope all Democrats challenging incumbent Republicans will run ads letting their future Asian and Latino voters know that when given the chance zero percent of House Republicans voted for immigration reform.

(Check current signatures on the discharge petition here)

There are stories like Ana's, Manny's, and mixed-families all across this country and we owe it to these families to do everything we can to give them a chance at the American Dream.