Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) has protected many young undocumented immigrants from deportation. This program has been highlighted in the media and has been discussed nationwide – why? Because President Donald Trump has determined to remove it. Although this decision impacts immigrants individually, we also want to focus on immigrant families. I had the opportunity of interviewing Luis H. Zayas, Dean of the Steve Hicks School of Social Work at The University of Texas at Austin, regarding the impact of the removal of DACA on immigrant families. Zayas’ research focuses on Hispanic families and children. This is what he had to say about the DACA decision:
TC: On September 5, President Donald Trump announced he was ending DACA in six months—that means March 5, 2018. Perhaps Congress will legislate for DACA, perhaps not; but there is much uncertainty that accompanies this process, and it seems like it creates an added hostile environment for many. What impact do you see this having on immigrant families?
LZ: I see this having a significant impact on immigrant families. I mean, we are talking about the ruptures that could happen in countless families if DACA is not extended. We are talking about kids who are Americans, for all intents and purposes, and who will be subject to deportation. That’s simply going to be a very painful thing for many people. And it will cut across generations because some young adults with DACA status are the parents of U.S. citizen-children. What will become of those Americans? It also will be hard for the government to enact a policy of deporting due to the very fact that that it means deporting and displacing millions of children, millions of parents, and families. Logistically, that will be virtually impossible. If this Administration has to round up the hundreds of thousands of DACA youth and millions of their undocumented parents and siblings, it will have to create detention centers and processes. It will be a nightmare for the undocumented, for government officials, and for taxpayers.
TC: I know you study depression and Latinx teens. Can you tell us more about how the threat to DACA is affecting teenagers — especially Latinx teenagers?
LZ: I haven’t studied [DACA teens] directly so I don’t have data. But I have spoken to DACA youth and I know it’s been very difficult for them, and students here [in Texas] and across the country are really feeling betrayed: First, they trusted the government by signing up for DACA. Now they’re feeling that the information they gave can be used against them. They’re promised one thing, and this President is taking it away from them. There is a real sense of instability, but I haven’t been able to speak to enough of them directly to be able to make an informed judgement about their situation or their mental/ psychological condition. But I can tell you that the psychological and emotional harm inflicted on their siblings who are citizen-children is almost bottomless, and it is immoral
TC: How can people/groups/organizations help?
LZ: I think each of us has to be able to help in our own way. In other words, we can’t do it all. One person just cannot do it all. There are people who are clinicians and practitioners who can help advocate for their clients. They can teach DACA clients how to advocate for themselves and they can use their experiences with clients to show the harm that can be done. If we collect as much as is possible and bring it together, we’ll make a difference. Those same clinicians can write to newspapers and contact their representative in Congress and apply pressure and say, “Look I treat these DACA youth and I’m serving these kids and their families and this is what you’re doing to them.”
University officials have been doing a lot to protect DACA students and so they too can continue to do that and talk to people who represent [their university]. Big institutions will have an impact on the thinking of Congressional representatives in their area both at the state level and at the federal level. In addition, there are those of us who do research–we can speak up and I think researchers have to have the capacity to translate their research into information that can be understood by the general public. It can’t be all of the scientific jargon. One has to break down the information so that way it is understandable to the average person, the average Member of Congress, the legislative aide, and people like that. It is really about what each of us do, and if each of us does something, I think we can really get this administration to back down from the stance that they have taken. And I think it’s beginning to show that people from both parties– Republicans and Democrats–want to protect DACA. I think that’s a good sign. There are 17 state attorneys general suing the Administration to prevent it from rescinding DACA. They need our support.
The removal of DACA is a call to step up. We may believe that we are unable to help when the government is the one enacting the policy, but we all have a voice. We are capable of advocating for those who are being deported—these are our peers, our classmates, and our friends. The elimination of this program is a very painful thing but it is painless to stick up for the people who are having their rights taken away from them. The families who are hurting from this deserve the support from a country in which they have spent their time building their lives, building families, and building homes.
Tasia Clemons is a Senior Sociology major at Framingham State University, an Administrative Resident Assistant, and a CCF Public Affairs Intern.