How Has DACA Improved Birth Outcomes Among Mexican-Immigrant Mothers?

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Undocumented pregnant immigrant mothers and their newborn children often experience health difficulties because of the looming threat and fear of deportation. Pregnant women will suffer from high-stress levels and poor health, and their children are born within the lower end of the birth weight distribution. As a result, newborns to undocumented immigrant mothers face a higher risk of mortality and health and developmental problems, according to a new policy brief released by the UC Davis Center for Poverty and Inequality Research.

Researchers looked at DACA’s positive impact on birth outcomes among a portion of Mexican-immigrant women in the United States. DACA, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival, was established in 2012 to grant work authorization and protection from deportation to more than 800,000 undocumented immigrants that arrived in the United States as minors. Between DACA’s creation in 2012 and June 2020, more than 825,000 initial DACA applications were approved. Studies have found that DACA increased high school graduation, employment, and public service receipt; reduced poverty; and improved the mental and self-rated health of participants.

“We found that DACA was associated with improvements in the rates of low birth weight and very low birth weight, birth weight in grams, and gestational age among infants born to Mexican-immigrant mothers. Policymakers should consider this evidence of DACA’s direct and intergenerational health benefits in future reforms of immigration legislation,” researchers said in their policy paper. 

The researchers and authors of the policy paper: Erin R. Hamilton and Caitlin Patler, both UC Davis professors of sociology and Paola D. Langer, a doctoral student, highlight the importance of implementing immigration reforms to ensure the well-being of vulnerable populations such as undocumented immigrant mothers and their children. 

By acknowledging the threat and fear of deportation as a cause of stress among undocumented pregnant women’s health, the policy brief explains how DACA’s creation could have alleviated some of the health risks pregnant women and their children face. 

As Congress discusses President Biden’s proposed immigration reform to grant undocumented immigrants citizenship, individuals should consider the long-term health benefits immigration reforms such as DACA have on immigrant mothers and their children, the authors said.  Immigration reforms such as DACA would ensure pregnant immigrant mothers and their children their livelihood and the secure environment everybody deserves. 

Study Facts 

  • Researchers used recorded birth data to identify DACA’s impact on birth outcomes among a subset of Mexicani mmigrant women in the United States.
  • DACA was associated with improvements to some outcomes among infants of DACA-eligible mothers for births conceived after the program was announced.
  • DACA’s direct and intergenerational health benefits mean that millions of immigrants and their U.S.-born children would benefit from legislation to secure its future.

Researchers analyzed birth record data provided by the National Center for Health Statistics from June 2010 to May 2014, culminating in the analysis of 72,613 births. The data explicitly focuses on the pregnancies and births of undocumented Mexican-immigrant women. The study examined the differences in birth outcomes between DACA-eligible mothers before and after the program was announced and the birth outcomes of non-eligible mothers before and after DACA’s announcement.

DACA eligibility consisted of mothers between the ages of 29 and 30 years old and the DACA ineligible between 33 and 34 years old. Births were compared across three periods: Pre-DACA period, Post-DACA Period 1 and Post-DACA period 2. 

The Pre-DACA period consisted of births before DACA’s announcement. Post-DACA Period 1 analyzed births conceived but born after the announcement, and the Post-DACA Period 2 analyzed births conceived after DACA’s establishment. In the study, researchers examined data on low birth weight, when a baby weighs less than 5 pounds 3 ounces at birth, and very low birth weight — when a baby is born weighing under 3 pounds and 4 ounces.  

The study showed a positive correlation between DACA and improved birth outcomes for births conceived in the 9-month period after DACA’s announcement. The improvements were identified among the births at the lower end of weight distribution, allowing the births at greatest risk to benefit most from the policy implementation. Researchers explain considering the relationship between birth outcomes and later life developments, one can assume DACA can alleviate future health risks. 

This blog post highlights and summarizes the original policy brief by Erin R. Hamilton and Caitlin Patler, both UC Davis professors of sociology and Paola D. Langer, a doctoral student at UC Davis. You can access the full policy brief here

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