Undocumented students left reeling by DACA repeal seek out mental health support

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Anissa Nishioka/Staff

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Within the five-year span of Salma Mayorquin’s time at UC Berkeley, she has witnessed both the implementation and repeal of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA.

Mayorquin, an undocumented student and DACA recipient, remembers the day in 2012 when former president Barack Obama announced DACA. The program allowed for undocumented children to defer deportation and secure documentation.

“I was just crying,” Mayorquin said. “I was going to be able to have a driver’s license, I was going to be able to work, actually (get) financial resources I didn’t think I could.”

Five years later, on Sept. 5, 2017, President Donald Trump’s administration announced its intent to repeal DACA with a six-month rollout.

The impact of the repeal was felt throughout the entire undocumented student community on campus. According to Meng So, director of the Undocumented Student Program, or USP, the number of undocumented students seeking out USP mental health support services has increased by 350 percent since the repeal last week.

Overall, USP has seen a total increase of 90 percent in undocumented students seeking mental health support between fall 2016 and fall 2017.

“Since the presidential election cycle, before anyone was elected, there was a spike in just vicious xenophobic rhetoric that had a severe impact on our undocumented students,” So said.

When Mayorquin, now a fifth-year, heard about the DACA repeal, she began to worry not just about herself but her family as well.

“At any point, the information that I give over in my (DACA) application, can be used by ICE to come after my family,” Mayorquin said. “And that keeps me stressed out because I’m not there with them.”

According to Tang Center staff psychologist Elizabeth Aranda, a tense political climate can threaten students’ perceptions of safety, which has numerous detrimental impacts to their mental health.

Undocumented students have an extra layer of anxiety and stress, losing sleep not only to school work but also to concern over the wellbeing of themselves and their families, according to So.

“Not only does it increase anxiety but it can be correlated to depression,” Arandas said. “Potentially for some it can be compounded for a post-traumatic stress disorder, depending on the individual lived experiences.”

To accommodate the influx of undocumented students seeking out mental health care, USP hired postdoctoral psychology student German Cadenas to assist USP’s counselor Diana Peña at the beginning of this semester.

USP decided to hire Peña three years ago, So said, in an effort to provide mental health care specifically dedicated to undocumented students. Counseling and Psychological Services, or CPS, on campus did not provide the specialized support necessary for undocumented students.

“Tang Center has counselors, too, which is great, but it’s nice to have someone with experience in that situation,” Mayorquin said.

So said the availability of CPS counselors was sparse for undocumented students and the campus services were only free for a limited amount of sessions. At USP, the undocumented students can call Peña directly and schedule appointments within one to two weeks.

“The biggest thing is listening to understand their successes, their challenges, goals, aspirations,” So said. “We’re busy … but we always take time to be human, to laugh, to connect, to mourn and to prepare for what’s ahead”

With the recent increase in students seeking out mental health care, USP has found itself hanging by a thread, according to So. In response, some Tang Center psychologists, such as Aranda, have extended themselves to offer special counseling for undocumented students.

Aranda, specifically, said that she has family members who are undocumented, so she has learned to share her own personal experience in order to gain the trust of undocumented students.

With her students, Aranda said she helps them identify how they’re feeling and then directs them to  “sources of resiliency” and other long-term strategies to remain hopeful.

Mayorquin is eligible to renew her DACA permit, which will give her two more years of security in this country. She said is grateful to have the extra time, but she does not know what will happen after.

In the meantime, she continues to visit the USP and talk to other students in similar situations. She said that even during somber and stressful times, they find ways to be humorous and pick themselves up.

“I’m sure maybe if somebody would have met me, they would have made a different decision,” Mayorquin said. “I try to funnel the anger into productivity and show them that I am a part of this community even if they don’t see it that way.”

Malini Ramaiyer is an assistant news editor. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @malinisramaiyer.

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