Agony of DACA repeal may affect mental health of immigrants

Agony of DACA repeal may affect mental health of immigrants

“I’m here today to announce that the program known as Deferred Action for Child Arrivals (DACA), that was effectuated under the Obama administration, is being rescinded,” Attorney General (AG) Jeff Sessions declared recently. The announcement that came in the first week of September 2017, was enough to stun Dona Cantu (name changed), an immigrant who grew up in America and considers California her home. A pall of hopelessness descended upon her. Suddenly, everything she had worked so hard to achieve, seemed endangered.

She was seven when the Cantus escaped to California from Mexico more than three decades ago. She has only a faded memory of Mexico left as she studied in California, spent time with friends, had heartbreaks, got her first job, and shaped her career. The Cantus had left behind drug-ridden neighborhoods, perpetual blaring police sirens and syringes at every corner of the street of a rural community in Mexico to build a better life for themselves.

When the Obama administration had announced the DACA, Dona and her siblings were among the first ones to apply for protection. But with AG Sessions calling the program unconstitutional and a “unilateral executive amnesty,” she is now forced to wonder if all the information that she has provided to the American government for the renewal of her permit would be used for or against her.

What is DACA?

DACA allowed young people who were brought illegally to the U.S. as children (under the age of 16), or were with families who overstayed their visas, to stay in the country and work legally for renewable periods of two years, provided they had no serious criminal record and had arrived before 2007.

According to the government’s announcement, it would not accept any fresh applications for protection under DACA. However, people who have valid permits can stay and work in the U.S. till their permits expire and those whose permits will expire before Mar. 5, 2018, can apply for a renewal before Oct. 5, 2017. In the meantime, the Congress has six months to come up with an alternative legislative plan.

Though some Democrats have said that they would like to see the program in place, the influential Republicans want a review of the policy rather than doing away with it altogether. Just a day after the government’s statement, 15 states and Washington D.C. sued the Trump administration so as to block the repeal of DACA and save the law.

Also called as “dreamers,” there are 800,000 individuals who have applied for protection under the program since its inception in 2012. The government receives as many as 8,000 renewal applications every week and experts feel that if the program were allowed to continue, it would protect nearly 1.3 million undocumented immigrants.

How DACA repeal affects mental health?

When undocumented immigrants like Dona enter a new country, they are faced with the challenges of adjusting themselves to the local lifestyle, culture and practices. They are denied a proper identity and are forced to leave a lot of opportunities as they do not have the paperwork to support themselves.

“My brother was very bright academically, and he received a lot of offers from top universities. But he could not take up any of those as he did not have the documents needed to either avail the scholarship or be eligible for a loan. This affected not only his prospects, but also his mental health. He slowly started showing symptoms of depression and had to be admitted to a rehab to recover,” shared another immigrant Gervasio Martinez (name changed).

Horado Garcia (name changed), yet another immigrant, said as undocumented (illegal) immigrants, they had to work harder to make a place for themselves in the society. People like him see a lot of pain and grief during their journey, and it becomes very discouraging when the government does not empathize with them. “I have been depressed and have not been able to sleep since the announcement was made. My mother has been wondering what will happen. It is taking a great toll on our health, both physically and mentally,” he said.

Dealing with mental disorders

When government decisions, such as the repeal of DACA, force immigrants like Dona, Gervasio, Horado and thousands of others like them to leave the place they have always seen as their home, the impact is palpable on their mental health. Persistent anxiety or stress, in such cases, can lead to the development of mental disorders, which if left untreated, can prove to be debilitating.

If you or someone you know is suffering from anxiety, depression or any other mental disorder, reach out to 24/7 Mental Health Helpline for assistance. We are a key behavioral health resource for the entire United States. Call our mental health helpline number 855-653-8178 for information on the leading treatment centers near you. You can also chat online with our mental rehab helpline experts who can assist you with the relevant information.