Election Blog With DAPA stalled, protecting children of immigrants is in the hands of the next president
Heather Koball, Julia Gelatt
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Today the Supreme Court issued a tied ruling on the case of US vs. Texas—on whether President Obama has the authority to extend temporary work authorization and relief from deportation to some undocumented immigrant parents.

This initiative, called Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA) would have granted new rights to an estimated 3.6 million undocumented immigrant parents who have a US citizen or lawful permanent resident child, have lived in the US since January 2010, were also present in the US in November 2014, and do not have a major criminal record or recent deportation order.

This tied vote means that the injunction placed on DAPA by the US 5th Circuit Court stands. In other words, DAPA will not be implemented.

Given what we know about how having undocumented parents affects children, if the next president aims to facilitate opportunity and upward mobility for the country’s next generation, he or she must work toward a comprehensive solution to the tenuous situation faced by millions of US children, mostly US citizens, with undocumented parents.

The Urban Institute and Migration Policy Institute estimate that 10 million US residents live in households with someone who would have been potentially eligible for DAPA, including 4.3 million US citizen and legal immigrant children. These families have strong roots in the United States – about two-thirds of DAPA-eligible parents have lived here for 10 years or more. Children of DAPA-eligible parents are being educated in US schools, have ties in US communities, and will be part of the future workforce of the country.

Because undocumented immigrant parents work without authorization and are often relegated to low-wage jobs, these DAPA households have a higher poverty rate—36 percent—than families with legal immigrant or US–born parents (22 percent and 14 percent, respectively). There is also a growing body of evidence that parents’ undocumented status harms children’s well-being and development through family stress, reduced income, poor housing conditions or housing instability, and reduced access to community supports for children, due to parents’ fears of interacting with public institutions.  Most damaging for children is when a parent – often the breadwinner – is deported, which has been tied to mental health problems and reduced school performance for children, as well as broad social service needs within families.

Urban and MPI estimate that if DAPA went forward, parents’ earnings would rise, and the poverty rate for DAPA-eligible families would be reduced to 30 percent. Further, protecting families, even if temporarily, from the threat of deportation would ease the stress and fear within such families, and likely improve families’ willingness to engage in the community in ways that support children’s development.  

Without DAPA, families will continue to grapple with often-challenging work situations, lowered incomes, and the threat of deportation. Some reforms in the meantime may ease the burden for some families. US enforcement policy shifted in November 2015, placing greater emphasis on deporting immigrants who just crossed the border and those with major criminal convictions. DAPA eligible parents are now lower on the list of deportation priorities. And, some states and localities are taking what action they can within federal law to expand the rights of undocumented immigrant parents, including opening driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants, connecting immigrants to legal services, and opening health insurance to undocumented immigrant adults. These policies do not remove the threat of deportation, but they can temporarily help protect the health and well-being of children.

However, without a comprehensive, long-term solution for undocumented parents, millions of US children will remain in the shadow of their parents’ legal status. It is up to the next president and the next Congress to ensure that the country does not maintain a population of millions of legally and economically excluded families.

Research Areas Immigrants and immigration
Policy Centers Center on Labor, Human Services, and Population