The Trump administration recently announced the decision to end legal protections for young, unauthorized immigrants who came to the United States as children. The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) initiative was put into place under former President Barack Obama as a measure to protect young immigrants from deportation; allow them to attain proper identification; and provide access to jobs and higher education. Many of these young people know no other country than America and, thus, are American with the exception of their birth place. The cruel, inhumane decision to end DACA could put approximately 800,000 of these young people at risk for deportation and potentially separate families. The decision also marginalizes immigrants as undeserving of basic rights and freedoms, such as access to health care, the ability to parent with dignity, and the right to be safe and free—all of which are essential tenets of both immigration justice and reproductive justice.
The decision to rescind the DACA program has enormous consequences for women especially, whether they are DACA recipients themselves or have DACA recipients in their families. Here are five ways immigration justice intersects with reproductive justice.
1. Immigrants deserve to live healthy lives and enjoy access to comprehensive health care.
Access to quality, affordable health care is a basic right that all people deserve to enjoy, regardless of immigration status. The decision to end the DACA program creates stress and anxiety, which undermines the health and well-being of families. Unauthorized immigrant women and families have difficulty accessing health care for several reasons, including a loss of employer-sponsored health insurance and fear of coming forward to access services and support for which they are eligible due to the fear of deportation. For those without health insurance coverage, health care services are available through front-line providers such as community health centers and Planned Parenthood health centers. Planned Parenthood is a leader in ensuring access to preventive care, including sexual and reproductive health services and education. Low-income women, women of color, immigrants, and young people make up the majority of patients served by Planned Parenthood health centers each year. These communities are most likely to experience barriers to quality health care and face poor health outcomes.
2. Immigrants deserve to live free from fear of deportation.
Due to an onslaught of anti-immigration policies put forth by the Trump administration and at the state level, immigrants are living in a heightened state of fear of deportation. The DACA decision is the latest in a series of actions by the administration that may make immigrant families more vulnerable to abusive and predatory practices. While immigrant women may fear deportation if they report domestic abuse, DACA-eligible young people may fear deportation due to the DACA rollback. Some immigrant victims of Hurricane Harvey—many of whom are women and children—are also living in fear of deportation, which is a barrier to seeking and applying for vital disaster relief. In fact, just before the hurricane made landfall in Texas, 50 unauthorized immigrant women and children were left stranded by local Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers at a bus station in San Antonio.
The heightened fears of immigrants are also prevalent due to the Trump administration’s decision to crack down on border enforcement. This has sharply increased the number of unauthorized immigrants being targeted and arrested. Immigrants deserve to live without fear of deportation and separation of their families. Furthermore, legal status should not dictate the ability of immigrant women and families to access services and support in times of need.
3. Immigrants deserve access to jobs that offer livable wages.
Unauthorized immigrants are more likely to work in low-wage jobs concentrated in the leisure and hospitality industry. However, job trends vary among DACA recipients—with a strong representation of about 21.3 percent in the educational and health services industry. DACA has been instrumental in helping young immigrants attain the proper documentation required for jobs that offer livable wages, as well as creating a pathway to attain educational opportunities. Without the program, it will be more difficult for immigrant women to secure jobs that allow them to provide for themselves and their families. Despite false claims made by President Donald Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions that immigrants are “taking our jobs,” this is just a strategy to pit different groups against each other and distract from the administration’s broader failures to put forward policies to help working families. What’s more, spewing this type of rhetoric is extremist and only serves to intensify divisions in the United States. All immigrants, regardless of legal status, make important contributions to our communities. Having DACA protections as well as access to reproductive health care enables women to control their destiny, participate in the workforce, and build stable families. And all immigrants deserve to earn livable wages, access to quality education, and attain economic security.
4. Immigrants deserve to parent their children with dignity.
The effects of deportation can have a lasting impact on immigrant families, and no family should have to live in fear of being separated. According to the largest survey of DACA recipients, about one-quarter of DACA recipients are parents of American citizen children. When a parent is deported, it leaves the other parent with the responsibility of raising a family as a single person—likely on a single income. For children, being separated from a parent can induce stress and trauma. Unauthorized immigrants deserve to parent their children with dignity, knowing that their families matter. Immigration policies should support keeping families together, while also helping immigrant parents and children access the services they need to lead healthy, economically secure lives.
5. Immigrants deserve to live in safe environments.
The Trump administration’s immigration policies are also causing women to drop domestic violence complaints due to fear of being deported. Earlier this year, an unauthorized transgender woman was detained by ICE officers outside of a Texas courthouse. The woman, a domestic abuse survivor, was at the courthouse seeking protection from her abuser. Since then, other immigrant women have dropped domestic abuse complaints due to the fear of being detained by ICE. Women deserve to feel safe and be protected, regardless of immigration status. Living in a safe environment is essential for women to thrive and lead healthy lives. This is especially critical as many immigrant women work to financially support and provide for themselves and their families.
The decision to rescind DACA will have enormous consequences for immigrant families, particularly for women who often handle family responsibilities. Every immigrant in the United States deserves to experience the holistic state of well-being as prescribed by the reproductive justice framework, which is rooted in basic human rights, regardless of legal status. This means that immigrants deserve to be safe, live economically secure lives, access services and support, and parent their children with dignity. Everyone deserves to be free—and live outside of the shadows of fear.
In his announcement to end DACA, President Trump shifted the responsibility to Congress to pass comprehensive legislation that protects young immigrants. It is now up to lawmakers to ensure immigration justice by securing DACA protections, and in turn, other reforms to support immigrant women and families. The contributions of the immigrant community are vital to the very fabric of American society, and every immigrant deserves to have their human rights respected and upheld.
Jamila Taylor is a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress.
The positions of American Progress, and our policy experts, are independent, and the findings and conclusions presented are those of American Progress alone. A full list of supporters is available here. American Progress would like to acknowledge the many generous supporters who make our work possible.
Senior Fellow; Director, Women’s Health and Rights