More than a quarter of young immigrants protected by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, better known as DACA, lack health insurance and face burdens that keep them from accessing care, according to new data shared for the first time. time with NBC News.

TO report released Friday by the nonprofit organization for immigrant rights National Immigration Law Center documenting the findings of a recent survey found that 27% of DACA recipients reported not being covered by any type of health insurance or other health care plan.

The results suggest that of the more than 580,000 young adults without legal status who are allowed to work and study without fear of deportation under the Obama-era DACA program, an estimated 157,000 are uninsured.

The survey was conducted last year with 817 DACA recipients. It was managed by tom kwongfounding director of the US Immigration Policy Center at the University of California, San Diego, with the help of United We Dream, the nation’s largest immigrant youth-led organization, the Center for American Progress, and the National Immigration Law Center.

TO previous version of the survey conducted in 2021 found the DACA uninsured rate to be 34%. Kica Matos, president of the National Immigration Law Center, attributed the slight drop to «a healthier economic climate.»

«The last survey was conducted while we were still in the middle of the pandemic, so we think economic trends have improved since then… This likely means more DACA recipients are employed and therefore have access to to health care» through their employers, Matos said.

Of DACA recipients who reported having health insurance, 80% said it was covered by an employer or union.

But unlike most Americans, if a DACA recipient loses their job and with it their health insurance, they cannot turn to federal health insurance programs, which are often more affordable but are only available to those who have legal immigration status.

Because being ineligible for federal health insurance contributes to the high rate of uninsured among DACA recipients, the US Department of Health and Human Services under President Joe Biden proposed a rule that would expand access to health care coverage for DACA recipients. Investigation has found that DACA recipients contributed a estimated $6.2 billion in federal taxes each year that help fund these programs.

Biden’s proposed rule has not yet been finalized, which means that DACA recipients’ access to federal health insurance programs is not yet closed.

NBC News has reached out to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, the HHS office that submitted the proposed rule, for further comment.

«It gives a lot of hope to many of us that we can access affordable health care because we often avoid going to the doctor,» said Diana Avila, a DACA recipient. «The thought of how much it’s going to cost is what makes a lot of us not want to go to the doctor.»

Biden’s proposal calls for the definition of “lawful presence” to be changed to include DACA recipients for purposes of Medicaid coverage and the Affordable Care Act.

Avila, 22, was born in Honduras and has lived in Indiana since she was 4 years old. Avila was 12 years old when she obtained DACA in 2012.

Barriers to accessing healthcare

DACA recipients await the fate of the proposed rule at a time when they are three times more likely to be uninsured than the general US population, according to the 2022 survey.

DACA has helped many eligible young immigrants access better-paying jobs and educational opportunities, but that hasn’t been the case for all recipients.

«There are still significant disparities in terms of access to healthcare for this particular population,» Matos said.

According to the survey, DACA recipients reported other barriers to accessing healthcare:

  • 57% of those surveyed believed they were ineligible to access care due to their immigration status.
  • 51% reported not being aware of any affordable care or coverage options available to them.
  • 21% believed that accessing health care services could negatively affect their or a family member’s immigration status.

Of those surveyed, 71% reported past situations where they were unable to pay medical bills or expenses in the past.

On top of that, «there are also those memories of families who can’t afford health care and have to deal with bills,» Matos added.

Avila remembers growing up in a family of mixed immigration status. That meant she and her older brother couldn’t access affordable health care, while her younger siblings, who were born in the US, qualified for care.

As a child, Avila was prone to ear infections, she said. Her mother would use all possible home remedies to evade doctors and hospitals and avoid unaffordable medical costs. By contrast, her younger siblings went to the doctor more often, even for the smallest problems.

When Avila was 18 years old, he suffered a concussion while playing soccer at school and needed to see a specialist. Avila recalled hesitating to go because she was concerned about her and her family’s ability to pay for her care.

«It’s sad to think about it. I considered that they would not look at me or take care of me because of how much it was going to cost,» he said.

The uncertainty of DACA and the cost of mental health

While DACA has been around for a decade, it has faced legal challenges from the Trump administration and Republican-led states. The program has been closed to new registrants since July 2021 while a lawsuit brought by Texas and other GOP-led states makes its way through the courts.

To improve DACA’s chances of surviving legal battles, the Biden administration implemented a rule in October that made the program a federal regulation. A federal judge in Texas is expected to rule on the legality of the new rule this year.

“The precarious nature of DACA has brought with it feelings of anxiety, depression and fear related to the future of their status because it is so uncertain,” Matos said of DACA recipients.

The new report found that nearly half (48%) of DACA recipients reported experiencing mental or behavioral health problems but had not sought care from a mental health professional. The top three barriers were high costs, lack of time, and limited access to providers capable of meeting their cultural or language needs.

Avila recently graduated from Marian University in Indianapolis with a degree in psychology and currently works at a nonprofit that serves immigrants.

Despite the uncertainty surrounding DACA, he plans to apply to law school and specialize in immigration and human rights law, hoping that a more permanent solution to his immigration status will emerge.

«DACA recipients contribute so much to society that it’s time for a change,» Avila said. «A pathway to citizenship would be the best way to appreciate the work DACA recipients have been doing since coming to the US.»