Protecting unauthorized immigrant mothers improves their children’s mental health

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Science  08 Sep 2017:
Vol. 357, Issue 6355, pp. 1041-1044
DOI: 10.1126/science.aan5893

Life under threat of deportation

What is the effect on a child of having parents who are at risk of deportation as unauthorized immigrants? Hainmueller et al. developed a quasi-experimental protocol to address this complicated question. They selected mothers who had birthdates either just before or just after the cutoff for the United States' Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. Children whose mothers were protected from deportation by DACA had 50% fewer diagnoses of adjustment and anxiety disorder than children with mothers whose birthdates, by coincidence, preceded the cutoff and who thus were not protected.

Science, this issue p. 1041


The United States is embroiled in a debate about whether to protect or deport its estimated 11 million unauthorized immigrants, but the fact that these immigrants are also parents to more than 4 million U.S.-born children is often overlooked. We provide causal evidence of the impact of parents’ unauthorized immigration status on the health of their U.S. citizen children. The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program granted temporary protection from deportation to more than 780,000 unauthorized immigrants. We used Medicaid claims data from Oregon and exploited the quasi-random assignment of DACA eligibility among mothers with birthdates close to the DACA age qualification cutoff. Mothers’ DACA eligibility significantly decreased adjustment and anxiety disorder diagnoses among their children. Parents’ unauthorized status is thus a substantial barrier to normal child development and perpetuates health inequalities through the intergenerational transmission of disadvantage.

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