A group of Asian-American and Pacific Islander-serving organizations announced the creation of a mental health program for recipients of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and their families Thursday, a month after the White House announced that it was ending the program.
Ten mental health service providers from the Asian Pacific Policy & Planning Council (A3PCON) — a Los Angeles-based consortium of Asian-American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) groups — said they will provide free counseling, case management, and other mental health services through the DACA Mental Health Project.
The groups said they are providing the services in 12 languages: Bangla, Cantonese, Hindi, Japanese, Khmer, Korean, Mandarin, Tagalog, Thai, Urdu, Vietnamese, and English.
Connie Chung Joe, co-chair of A3PCON, said it was important for the groups to say they would continue to provide services during a time of uncertainty that has seen some clients shy away from seeking help.
“We wanted to make it particularly clear that we would find a way to serve DACA recipients regardless of whatever Medi-Cal qualifications or status, without having to [worry] about getting the government involved,” she said.
She added that some clients might be hesitant about enrolling in government-funded programs because of the fear attached to sharing information.
Shikha Bhatnagar — executive director of the South Asian Network, one of the collaborating organizations — has also noticed clients dropping out of services, especially when it comes to the renewal of health insurance.
“They are too afraid to come in,” Bhatnagar said. “They feel their information might be in jeopardy, and they might be deported.”
Manjusha Kulkarni, A3PCON’s executive director, said that DACA has enabled thousands of young people to “come out of the shadows” and be integrated into society since its creation in 2012, though there has been a stigma in the AAPI community regarding coming forward and applying for protections.
Kulkarni attributes the low application rates in part due to the model minority myth.
“I do think that this is one other place we see the model minority myth hurting the community because a lot of people unfortunately buy into it … and it makes it harder for people who don’t have status to come out of the shadows and to say, ‘hey, you know what, I had to come here [because] there was political strife in my homeland,” she said.
A United States Citizenship and Immigrant Services spokesperson told NBC News that as of Oct. 6, approximately 122,000 out of 154,000 DACA recipients who were eligible for renewals had applied.
Joe said A3PCON’s DACA Mental Health Project is also designed to provide more flexible services and help those who might not have a diagnosed medical health condition but want to speak to a professional due to stress and anxiety.
Kulkarni said that families are facing a lot of fear and uncertainty, noting that they can see that the Trump administration has been “hostile to immigrants.”
That hostility can increase levels of anxiety, panic attacks, and depression, she added.
“They know they’re getting the message loud and clear that they are unwelcome here, so I think this is a very difficult time, and that’s why we launched our [mental health] project,” Kulkarni said.