Theses Doctoral

A Qualitative Investigation into Contemporary Experiences of Immigrant Young Adults with a Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) Status: Experiences of Stress, Socio-political Shifts, and Impacts on Health and Wellbeing

Brito, Francia N.

In 2012, President Barack Obama used prosecutorial discretion to initiate the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program that deferred deportation and provided employment authorization for a two-year renewable period to undocumented immigrant persons that came to the U.S. as children. Under former President Donald Trump’s administration, DACA was rescinded in 2017. A review of the literature suggests this is the only study to explore the perceived impact of a policy shift in DACA status, given the critical time of interviews conducted from April 2016 to October 2018. Thus, substantially advancing the literature, qualitative data on a diverse group (N=10) of young adult DACA beneficiaries revealed positive and negative impacts. The sample included 60% currently gainfully employed, 40% attending college—while 80% had experienced emotional distress by having an unauthorized legal status and facing obstacles to pursuing higher education. Of note, 40% rated themselves as currently relatively healthy, while 60% indicated having experienced a decline in their physical or mental health since entering the United States.

As significant sources of stress, 90% had experienced anxiety centered around having to wait to renew their DACA status and having to pay for their status renewals. Given the rescinding of the DACA program in 2017, many were ill-prepared, as 90% had never experienced being undocumented without a DACA status as an adult in the United States.

The main body of qualitative data generated six categories that encompassed 51 emergent themes: 1-Participants’ health trajectory across their lifespan; 2-Participants’ experiences of barriers to seeking care and having their health and mental health needs addressed; 3-Participants Living at the Intersection of Contemporary Immigration; 4-The impact of other family members’ immigration status; 5-From enjoying benefits of the DACA program, to having a false sense of normalcy, to feeling ambivalence, and experiencing detriments; and, 6-Potential DACA policy shifts and anticipated impacts ranging from negative (fear, loss, suffering) to positive (relief).

These six broad categories suggest how, despite the benefits of their DACA status, substantial barriers and sources of anxiety and stress still impacted the lives of the young adults and their families. Implications of the findings are discussed.

Geographic Areas


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Health and Behavior Studies
Thesis Advisors
Wallace, Barbara C.
Fullilove, Robert E.
Ed.D., Teachers College, Columbia University
Published Here
October 27, 2021