Executive Action on Immigration to Support Family Economic Security, Child Well-being

By Helly Lee

On November 20, 2014, President Obama announced his executive action plan to defer deportation and authorize work for 3 years for up to 5 million undocumented immigrants who have been long-term residents and have strong family ties in the United States. Specifically, his executive action plan applies to:

  • An estimated 3.53 million parents with U.S. citizen children and who have lived in the U.S. for 5 or more years;
  • An estimated 180,000 parents with lawful permanent resident (LPR) children and who have lived in the U.S. for 5 or more years;
  • An estimated 290,000 immigrants brought to the U.S. as children who are now newly eligible for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program (this is an expansion of the existing DACA program, announced in 2012, which currently makes 1.2 million young people eligible for relief).

At least 9 million people in the United States live in mixed-status families where the child is a citizen and one or both parents are undocumented. The executive order can potentially stabilize these families and advance several widely shared American goals:  children’s well-being and educational success, families’ economic security, and a strong American workforce in the coming years.

A particularly large share of children under age 6 live in immigrant families.  One in four children of this age lives in an immigrant family with at least one foreign-born parent (including parents who are citizens, long-term permanent residents, and undocumented). Ninety-three percent of these young children are U.S.-born citizens; an additional 4 percent are legal non-citizens.

For all children, but particularly for the youngest children, family disruption and the fear of disruption endanger emotional security, healthy development, and learning. Therefore, this action promotes not only the well-being of millions of citizen children but also their capacity to develop, learn, and succeed at school and – eventually – as a crucial part of America’s economy and workforce. Research has shown that the children of undocumented immigrants not only live with the fear that their parents might be arrested, detained or deported, but also experience damaging consequences including economic hardships, food insecurity, behavior changes, and separation from their families, should those fears become reality. Allowing the parents of citizen and LPR children to legalize means that millions of families will have the stability in their lives to stay in school and the emotional safety that contributes to educational success.   

In addition, when millions of parents are able to come out of the shadows of being undocumented workers, they can contribute to their families’ and the nation’s economic stability through work and be able to participate publicly in their parental role by entering schools with less fear, advancing their children’s educational success. They may also be more likely to ensure that their children have health insurance and good quality early education – help that citizen children are now eligible for but sometimes do not participate in because of their families’ fears of revealing any undocumented status in the household. 

The anti-poverty potential of this executive order goes beyond the millions of children and families directly affected.  It will also benefit non-immigrant workers and employers, who will no longer have to compete with low-road employers that take advantage of undocumented workers to undermine labor standards. The economic impact from executive action affects every part of the economy, including increasing wages and creating more tax revenue, and all Americans stand to benefit from these improvements.

The executive action also includes an expansion of the 2012 DACA program that provides temporary relief and work authorization for undocumented youth who came to the U.S. as children.  The expansion will eliminate the current age cap of 31, move the required date of entry from 2007 to 2010, and extend deferred action to a period of 3 years from the original 2 years.

CLASP salutes the Administration for this bold step forward not only for immigrant families but also for the nation, consistent with the broad national goals of educational opportunity and achievement for all children, a strong workforce, and a strong economy. While this executive order is a welcomed step in the right direction, it does not replace the need to pass and enact comprehensive immigration reform. Congress must do its part to pass legislation that would provide a broader, long-term solution to addressing the needs of immigrants and this nation. We look forward to engaging with advocates and policymakers to create solutions that support low-income immigrant families. We will continue to encourage immigration reform policies that provide strong supports and opportunities for immigrant families to thrive, engage in the workforce, and contribute to the economic growth of this country.