The voices of Urban Institute's researchers and staff
March 6, 2015

What's at stake now that Obama's executive action on immigration has stalled?

March 6, 2015

A Texas federal court has issued an injunction temporarily blocking President Obama’s November 20th 2015 executive actions on immigration. The administration has requested a stay to lift the injunction and filed an appeal to overturn the order, but what happens next isn’t clear—especially for the over 4 million undocumented immigrants who would be affected.

The executive actions on the table are the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA) and the expansion of the Deferred Action of Child Arrivals (DACA). DAPA would defer deportation and provide work permits to unauthorized immigrant parents who have US-born and legal permanent resident children and who meet other requirements. The expansion of DACA covers a larger number of child arrivals by removing the age maximum and requiring immigrants to have lived continuously in the United States since January 1, 2010, rather than the previous date of June 15, 2007.

With these initiatives on hold, there is a lot of uncertainty in immigrant communities. And immigrant-serving organizations are on edge, as they may have to respond to unprecedented service demand on short notice. But what happens if the executive actions don’t pass? What is at stake?

  • The mental and physical health of the 5.3 million children who live with an undocumented parent: These children—most of whom are US citizens—face mental and emotional consequences, such as anxiety, stress, and depression from the fear of deportation or separation from their parents. Access to health services of these children remains low. Of the 2 million uninsured Hispanic children, an estimated two-thirds (1.3 million children) are eligible for Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program but are not enrolled.
  • The economic mobility of 4 million workers: The work permits that immigrants would receive under DAPA allow them to access more job options, which gives them a chance to move up. With the wage stagnation over the past decade, work permits may be the only way these workers can experience some wage mobility.
  • The effectiveness of poverty-reducing strategies: When parents are undocumented, government strategies for tackling poverty—such as safety net programs, minimum-wage increases, and tax credits—are less effective. The children of these parents do not get the benefits for which they are eligible because their undocumented parents do not seek services. Increases to the minimum wage may not reach immigrants who work outside the formal labor market. And undocumented parents cannot get the EITC and other tax credits without a valid Social Security number.
  • American employers cannot take full advantage of the skills of immigrants: While employers look for workers, undocumented immigrants must sit to the side, constrained to back-of–the-shop occupations. The scarcity of machinists and workers in trades is particularly acute, but qualified immigrants can’t fill these positions without work permits. DAPA would give work permits to certain immigrants, allowing employers to tap into this workforce. The effect on the skills supply will be even larger in the long-term because newly legalized workers will have more incentives to invest in their skills training.

There is so much at stake that it is possible that no ruling - other than those concerning the Affordable Care Act - directly affects as many people as these executive actions.

Photo: Bebeto Matthews/AP

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