Social Sciences Forum weighs plight of undocumented children

23rd October 2017

By Steven Krolak

(NEW ALBANY, Ind.)—In 2012, an executive order of then-President Obama delayed immigration enforcement for undocumented minors. Under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) order, children of undocumented immigrants who met certain requirements were not immediately deported. A two-year buffer was created that allowed them to stay in the country, attend school and work.

The current administration has reversed that policy, also by executive order. Lawmakers who support DACA at the state and federal levels have pledged to resist a rollback, even agencies such as U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) have stepped up raids and deportations.

As a result, an estimated 800,000 DACA recipients from over 25 countries are caught in legal limbo while political battles around their status and future prospects rage.

This situation is the focus of the fall Social Sciences Forum conversation, “Undocumented Uncertainties: Children at the Intersection of Immigration Battles.”

The event ​takes place on Thurs., Oct. 26 at 6 p.m. in the IU Southeast Library, Third Floor.

Featured panelists are Mr. Jay McTyier, IU Southeast registrar and Dr. Veronica Medina, assistant professor of sociology.

The conversation will address aspects of the DACA issue that are not widely or reliably reported.

DACA recipients have grown up in the United States as Americans. On a personal level, the revocation of the order, and the prospect of deportation, puts them at risk of anxiety, depression, social isolation and potentially post-traumatic stress disorder, according to the American Psychological Association (APA).

Forced separation from their families is the inevitable consequence for many, if not most. That traumatic experience can summon a host of larger issues, especially for undocumented minors, of whom there are nearly one million living in the U.S.

The uncertainty over their legal status not only makes fitting in more difficult, it can affect a person’s ability to form an individual identity and to maintain relationships, can evoke feelings of persecution and foster a distrust of institutions and authority figures.

Indifference and non-involvement emerge when these individuals believe they have no role to play in the society they have grown up in. Once slipped through the cracks, youth are more at risk for racial profiling, exposure to gangs, placement in the child welfare system and forced deportation, among others, according to the APA.

For adult DACA recipients who are already making a contribution to American society, and may first learn of their immigration status when they are seized by ICE, the psychological and emotional disorientation can be just as acute.

“Growing up and being told that they could be anything they desired to be, many DACA recipients have had to put their career and academic plans on hold because they do not know whether they will be allowed to remain or if they will be forced to return to ‘homes’ that most have never known or that they do not remember—or that their parents had good reason to flee,” Medina said.

This is especially disconcerting because so many channels to advancement are already blocked.

For example, undocumented students may attend university, but are unable to access federal, state or institutional financial aid, making this road to success much more challenging and creating an inequality for students who pay taxes but do not enjoy the benefits of the system they support.

From psychiatric services to foster homes to law enforcement, exclusion even at its current level imposes a social cost on U.S. communities that may far outweigh any benefit expected by supporters of DACA revocation. Not to mention the cost of forfeiting the contributions of immigrants desperate to succeed and make the American dream a reality.

Finally, the forum will look to correct widespread misconceptions surrounding immigration policy that continue to seep into, and distort, the national conversation about immigration.

That conversation could be greatly informed by existing research enumerating the impacts of undocumented immigration more generally. Such research helped to frame immigration reform efforts under the Bush and Obama administrations that ultimately resulted in the DACA program.

“More than anything, I want this forum to spark a humane debate about comprehensive immigration reform that is grounded in empirical evidence and factually correct understandings of immigration laws and processes,” Medina said.

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