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Threatening Immigrant Youth Undermines Our Nation’s Health

By , Maria Walawender,


As health equity advocates, we at Families USA share a fundamental vision of a nation where every single human being has an equitable chance to enjoy the best health possible, no matter who they are—including where they were born. For us, it is not about being on the left or right of the political spectrum. Equal access to good health is an intrinsically human value.

DACA decision is an attack on immigrant and minority communities

We are deeply distressed, saddened, and angered by the continued intensification of anti-immigrant and white supremacist rhetoric—sometimes even from our own government—especially as it has escalated into violence.

It is particularly alarming to see how bigotry and xenophobia are being distilled and crystallized into poisonous legal actions by our own government. President Trump’s decision to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA) is the latest, and arguably the most irrational, example of the intensification of government threats on immigrant and minority communities.

Greenlighting the deportation of close to 800,000 young people who’ve been strictly vetted and overwhelmingly either have jobs or are students will not get us any closer to reforming our broken immigration system. On the contrary, terminating DACA is an enormous step in the wrong direction that risks undermining the physical, emotional, and economic health of our nation.

DACA recipients are the fabric of our communities across the country

DACA defers deportation for people who were brought into the United States by their parents as children without authorization. Known as “Dreamers,” they grew up here, are part of the fabric of our communities all across the country, and have been working hard to build productive futures.

Many people with DACA status did not even know that they lacked legal status until they tried to get a drivers license or applied for college, and were faced with the threat of having the rug pulled from under them for a decision that was made for them many years before.

DACA is not a handout or a free pass. The DACA status is an opportunity not just for recipients, but also for us. Not freely granted to anyone, applicants must be in or have completed school or served in the military. DACA recipients are vetted extensively to ensure that they pose no threat to public safety.

Today, 91 percent of Dreamers are employed and paying taxes. Approximately 900 serve in our military. Driving out these successful, contributing members of society would not solve the country’s immigration, employment, or economic challenges.

Driving these young people out of country will hurt our workforce and economy

On the contrary, sending these young people back to countries they barely remember would actually hurt our workforce and economy.  As Baby Boomers retire, it is immigrants who will pick up their slack in the workforce. Without immigration generally, the U.S. workforce would shrink, and with it the economy.

Looking at DACA holders specifically, the expiration of their work authorizations will result in 30,000 losing their jobs every month –which will be hard for employers to quickly make up.  Even the conservative CATO Institute estimated that ending DACA would cost the federal government more than $60 billion and cut national economic growth by $280 billion over the next 10 years!

This would be particularly bad news for the health care sector. Workforce challenges are being felt acutely in this sector where there is already a shortage of primary care physicians and dentists. Add to that an estimated 1.1 million unfilled nursing positions by 2022, and projected growth for home health and personal care workers of at least 800,000 by 2024.

Today, about 1 in 5 Dreamers work in health care or education, there are 65 in medical school right now, and approximately 5,000 work in protective services. Even as the federal government turned their backs on them, Dreamers like Karla Pérez and Oscar Hernández garnered national media attention for stepping up for their communities and being among the first to help those devastated by Hurricane Harvey.

It is past time that we all embrace the Dreamers and work to make sure they are free to continue contributing to our nation’s future. We need their energy, drive, resilience, and courage.

It is up to us to ensure that our elected leaders quickly take action to protect Dreamers’ ability to stay here and work for our common good.  Not just for their benefit, but for our own.

Learn more about what the Trump administration’s DACA decision means for DACA recipients’ health care.