When Beatriz Rea Flores was pursuing her bachelor’s degree from Fresno State, she was also expecting her first child. As a DREAMer, she said threats to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program at the time became a stressor for her during her pregnancy. Luckily, it did not affect her child, but she is aware the same can’t be said for others.

“I believe that it is important to have protections and/or rights in place for DACA recipients, particularly mothers, because we are doing everything in our power to be educated, prepared and lawfully in the country as individuals, But once you are expecting, [as] a student about to graduate, it is a bit different,” Flores said. “I now have two American-born kids, I am educated and I am afraid. I believe that anything that affects me, affects them and it should not be this way.”

Researchers with Fresno State’s Central Valley Health Policy Institute and University of California, San Francisco set out to study this topic and recently published a research study, “The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program and Birth Outcomes in California: A Quasi-Experimental Study” that examines the correlation between the DACA program and positive birth outcomes.

“We began this study because more research is needed to understand the effect of immigration status on birth outcomes and the impact of policies related to immigration on mothers and babies,” said Dr. Tania Pacheco-Werner, co-director of the Central Valley Health Policy Institute and senior author of the project.

“This study provides some of the first evidence of the effect of DACA on birth outcomes and is the first to consider longer-term impacts of the program. The study highlights the importance of policies in health outcomes and how vulnerabilities to policies can similarly affect outcomes.”

In 2012, President Barack Obama issued an executive order creating the DACA program, a policy that provides temporary relief from deportation and work permits for previously undocumented immigrants who arrived as children. In 2017, President Donald Trump ordered an end to the program.

The results of the research study, which began in 2009, suggest that DACA was associated with modest improvements in birth weight outcomes among births to Mexican-born mothers and those whose births were billed to Medicaid in the three years directly following DACA’s passage (2012-15) as to the pre-DACA period (2009-12).

“However, these positive impacts were no longer apparent when we compared the impacts of DACA on birth outcomes in  subsequent  three years (2015-18) – a period of direct threats to the DACA program – as compared to the pre-DACA period,” said Dr. Jackie Torres, assistant professor of epidemiology and biostatistics in the School of Medicine at UCSF, who served as the corresponding author.

In addition to the DACA study, the Central Valley Health Policy Institute is also working with UCSF Fresno on the EMBRACE study which also examines birth outcomes, particularly the impacts of prenatal care on preterm birth, anxiety and depression.

Going forward, Pacheco-Werner, Torres and other researchers plan to expand on their research related to immigration policies and its health outcomes on those communities.

“DACA recipients are an important part of the California State University community, including at Fresno State,” Pacheco-Werner said . “Understanding how protections for this group can provide longer-term benefits is important. Right now, the Biden Administration is exploring a rule to preserve and strengthen the DACA program. Evidence as to its potential benefits and things to consider when it is not a permanent policy is important to this conversation.”

Other Fresno State faculty and staff who contributed to this study are Emanuel Alcala, assistant director with the Central Valley Health Policy at Fresno State, and Amber Shaver, lecturer in the Department of Psychology.

To learn more, contact Pacheco-Werner at tpacheco@csufresno.edu.

[View original story in Fresno State News