Five years ago, U.S. President Barack Obama signed an executive order that allowed young, unauthorized immigrants who arrived in the country as children to work, go to school, and get a driver’s license without fear of deportation. More than 780,000 people under 31—so-called “dreamers”—signed up for the program, known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). Now, a study shows for the first time that even the temporary protection DACA provides to dreamer parents can rapidly boost their children’s mental health, sharply reducing the rate of several mental disorders.
Even “a relatively small change in a parent’s migratory status can significantly improve a child’s well-being,” says Cécile Rousseau, a child psychiatrist at Montreal Children’s Hospital in Canada who was not involved with the work.
The researchers analyzed emergency Medicaid claims data from 5653 unauthorized immigrant mothers from Oregon, all born between 1980 and 1982. DACA’s arbitrary enrollment criteria, which only allow immigrants born after 15 June 1981 to apply, created control and treatment groups similar to those used to test the efficacy of drugs in clinical trials.
Combined, DACA eligible and ineligible mothers gave birth to 8610 children between 2003 and 2015. All are legal U.S. citizens. Jens Hainmueller, lead author of the study and a political scientist at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California, and colleagues looked at the childrens’ medical records, focusing on two distinct types of psychiatric diagnosis. The first category, anxiety disorders, has a strong genetic component and these disorders may arise with or without an…