Anti-Immigration Policy and Mental Health: Risk of Distress and Trauma Among Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Recipients in the United States

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Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy






American Psychological Association

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Objective: This study examined the association between immigration legal status and distress from the announcement of the termination of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program among individuals affected by this potentially traumatic event (PTE), along with identifying relevant risk factors. Method: Participants (N = 233) affected by the termination announcement provided cross-sectional self-reports on distress from the announcement that was measured using the Impact of Events Scale—Revised. Results: Of the participants, 40.7% met the clinical cutoff for distress from the PTE indicative of posttraumatic stress disorder. DACA recipients had significantly higher levels of distress from the PTE compared with non-DACA undocumented immigrants and documented counterparts, X2(2, N = 233) = 23.25, p < .001. After controlling for covariates, being a DACA recipient (OR = 4.11, 95% confidence interval [1.99, 8.50], p < .001), being male (OR = 2.06, [1.05, 4.03], p = .035), and having lower financial security (OR = .54, [.38, .75], p < .001) were significantly associated with distress. Conclusion: The future of DACA recipients is uncertain, which can be trauma inducing. The field of psychology needs to make space for this kind of experience as potentially traumatic. Advocacy efforts to shift immigration policies can be strengthened to alter the negative effects of the potential termination of DACA on those affected by it.