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Parents’ Unauthorized Status Places 5.1 Million Children, Nearly 80 Percent of Them Born in the United States, at Disadvantage

Press Release
Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Parents’ Unauthorized Status Places 5.1 Million Children, Nearly 80 Percent of Them Born in the United States, at Disadvantage

86% of Such Children Could Potentially See Parents Benefit from Suspended DAPA Program

WASHINGTON – Research shows that children who have a parent who is an unauthorized immigrant are at a significant disadvantage, regardless of whether the children were born in the United States. A new Migration Policy Institute (MPI) fact sheet uses an innovative methodology that permits comparison of children of unauthorized immigrants to other children in the United States to offer new data measuring that disadvantage at economic, educational and linguistic levels.

MPI estimates that approximately 5.1 million children (under age 18) — 79 percent (4.1 million) of them born in the United States — live with a parent who is an unauthorized immigrant, representing 7 percent of the U.S. child population. In the new fact sheet, MPI researchers trace the disadvantage associated with parental unauthorized status: higher levels of poverty and linguistic isolation, reduced rates of family socioeconomic progress and English proficiency as well as lower pre-school enrollment.

With a legal challenge blocking, at least temporarily, an Obama administration initiative that would grant work permits and temporary relief from deportation to the parents of as many as 86 percent of these children, the disadvantage sketched by the MPI researchers likely will persist for millions of children. The Supreme Court this month is expected to decide whether to take up the case challenging the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA) program unveiled by the administration in November 2014.

The fact sheet, A Profile of U.S. Children with Unauthorized Immigrant Parents, finds that 42 percent of children with an unauthorized immigrant parent live in one of the 26 states that joined the DAPA challenge. All 10 states that have the highest shares of children with unauthorized immigrant parents among their overall children of immigrant population (North Carolina, Arkansas, South Carolina, Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, Oklahoma, Mississippi, Idaho and Texas) joined the DAPA lawsuit.

The fact sheet provides a unique snapshot of children of unauthorized immigrants at state and top county levels, including their number, characteristics (including citizenship, age, English proficiency and school enrollment) and socioeconomic status, as well as numbers of parents who might be shielded from deportation under deferred action programs.

Drawing on MPI assignments of unauthorized status to noncitizens using U.S. Census Bureau data (from the 2009-2013 American Community Survey and the 2008 Survey of Income and Program Participation), the MPI researchers find that:

  • Three-quarters of children with unauthorized immigrant parents lived in families with incomes below the threshold for free and reduced price school lunches, compared to 51 percent of children of all immigrants and 40 percent of the entire U.S. child population.
  • In contrast to the experience of U.S. children generally, children with unauthorized immigrant parents did not experience falling poverty as they made the transition from childhood to adolescence.
  • Children ages 3-4 with unauthorized immigrant parents were less likely to be enrolled in preschool: 37 percent versus 45 percent among children of immigrants generally and 48 percent for the entire U.S. child population.
  • At all ages, children with unauthorized parents were more likely to be linguistically isolated, in other words living in a household lacking English proficiency among household members ages 14 and older. Overall, 43 percent were linguistically isolated, compared to 24 percent for all children of immigrants and 6 percent for all U.S. children.
  • Children ages 5 and older with unauthorized immigrant parents were more likely than children of immigrants generally and the overall U.S. population to be limited English proficient (LEP) themselves (27 percent versus 16 percent and 3.4 percent respectively), a gap that closed with age.

“Barring implementation of DAPA or other major policy changes, the development of these children will take place in families disadvantaged by parental unauthorized status,” said Randy Capps, director of research for MPI’s U.S. programs.

The fact sheet also finds that the share of children who were themselves unauthorized rose with age: from 3 percent for ages 0-2 to 17 percent at ages 5-11 and 41 percent for ages 15-17.

The fact sheet adds to MPI’s research on the effects of unauthorized status on families and children, including a report that examines the evidence concerning the impacts of deportation and fears of deportation on unauthorized immigrant families and children, and one that assesses the involvement of families with a deported parent with health and social service systems in five states.

The fact sheet can be downloaded at: www.migrationpolicy.org/research/profile-us-children-unauthorized-immigrant-parents.

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The Migration Policy Institute (MPI) is an independent, non-partisan, non-profit think tank in Washington, DC dedicated to analysis of the movement of people worldwide. MPI provides analysis, development and evaluation of migration and refugee policies at the local, national and international levels. For more on MPI, visit www.migrationpolicy.org.