Inaction on DACA is traumatizing North Carolina families and children

By: - March 9, 2018 10:09 am

When President Trump decided last September to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, he claimed to want a permanent legislative replacement, and set a March 5th deadline, in theory, to push Congress to act. Thus far, the Administration has failed to deliver and young adults and their families in North Carolina are paying the price.

Ongoing court challenges allow DACA recipients to renew their status, but the program is closed to new applications and the future of Dreamers and their families has been thrown into doubt. This lack of resolution itself is traumatizing DACA recipients, many of whom are or have children.

A new report from the Center on Law and Social Policy, based on extensive interviews with educators, counselors, and health professionals, documents the many ways that President Trump’s decision is harming children and families across North Carolina. Among the findings in Our Children’s Fear: Immigration Policy’s Effects on Young Children:

  • Young children fear that their parents will be taken away. Children as young as 3 years old are expressing fears that their parents won’t be home at the end of their preschool day.
  • Their distress is evident in behaviors such as harming themselves, withdrawing from activities they used to enjoy, and regressing on developmental milestones.
  • Young children—who are citizens—are getting less access to nutrition, health care, and early care and education programs, because of families’ isolation and fears. Examples included a special-needs child being pulled out of recommended treatment, early childhood programs unable to fill their classrooms despite burgeoning need, and families declining nutrition assistance.
  • Fear is keeping families isolated in their homes and increasingly vulnerable to economic instability, housing turmoil, and exploitation.
  • Parents—the most important source of support for young children—are themselves under severe stress.
  • Early childhood educators, another crucial source of support for young children, are also overwhelmed.
  • The cumulative effect of these experiences is likely harming millions of young children.

This is from the release that accompanied the report:

In addition to documenting the damage, Our Children’s Fear includes recommendations for how our nation’s immigration policies can put the needs of children front and center.

‘We urge Congress and the Trump Administration to support the best interests of children in immigration policy decisions by consistently enforcing its “sensitive locations” policy to restrict enforcement actions in such places as child care and preschools that are critical to children’s health and well-being and by ensuring parents can make decisions about their children’s care when detained or deported,’ said Wendy Cervantes, senior policy analyst on immigration and immigrant families and report author.

‘We also recommend reversing course on the Trump Administration’s efforts to punish documented parents who place their children in Head Start or enroll them in health care or WIC nutrition services.’ The companion report—Immigration Policy’s Harmful Impacts on Early Care and Education—includes recommendations to help professionals in the early care and education community support immigrant families dealing with the consequences of the Trump Administration’s rhetoric and actions.”

According to a 2015 survey, roughly one-quarter of DACA recipients have children who are U.S. citizens, and now those children are living with the constant fear of seeing their parents deported and their families torn apart.

One little boy was writing down what he knew how to cook—peanut butter sandwiches and cheese sandwiches—in order to reassure his frightened five-year-old sister that they would be okay if their parents were deported.”

Regardless of whether President Trump understands the weight of his actions, it must be pointed out that he chose to dismantle a program that made children feel more secure and less afraid (a recent study found that children of mothers who were eligible for DACA were much less likely to be diagnosed with adjustment and anxiety disorders). Now, young children are being exposed to levels of stress and anxiety that can leave lifelong physical and emotional damage.

And the harm doesn’t end with the families directly impacted. Classmates of children and the broader communities where families live are affected by the uncertainty and the potential loss of neighbors, friends, workers and consumers.

Reasonable people can disagree about what sensible and just immigration policy looks like, but children don’t have to suffer while that debate plays out. Leaders in Washington should spare children and families needless trauma, heed what the overwhelming majority of Americans want to see happen, and pass legislation to make DACA protections permanent.

Dr. Patrick McHugh is a Policy Analyst at the North Carolina Budget and Tax Center.

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Patrick McHugh

Patrick McHugh is the research manager at the North Carolina Budget & Tax Center. Learn more at