Children of Unauthorized Immigrant Parents Exposed to More Risk Factors

By John Allison

A new report released by the Migration Policy Institute (MPI), studying U.S. children with unauthorized immigrant parents, has found that such children are more exposed to risk factors that impact their well-being and future, and that this is unlikely to change without a change in immigration policy.

Here’s what the report found:

  • The vast majority of these children are citizens—79 percent of children with unauthorized immigrant parents are citizens. This equates to roughly 4.1 million children.
  • Lower preschool enrollment—37 percent of children ages 3 to 4 with unauthorized immigrant parents were enrolled in preschool compared to 45 percent of children of immigrants and 48 percent for the entire U.S. child population.
  • Linguistic isolation—At any given age, children of unauthorized immigrants were more likely to be linguistically isolated. Linguistic isolation was calculated by identifying households lacking an English proficient member of at least 14 years or older. 43 percent of these children were found to be linguistically isolated compared to 24 percent for children of all immigrants and 6 percent for all U.S. children.
  • Limited English proficiency—27 percent of children ages 5 and older with unauthorized immigrant parents were limited English proficient themselves compared to 16 percent of children of immigrants and 3.4 percent of all U.S. children.
  • Poverty—Roughly three-quarters of children with unauthorized immigrant parents had family incomes below 185 percent of the federal poverty level compared to 51 percent of children of all immigrants and 40 percent of the entire U.S. population.
  • Reduced socioeconomic progress—By comparison to the experiences of U.S. children generally, children with unauthorized immigrants did not experience diminishing poverty as they made the transition from childhood to adolescence.

Based on these findings, MPI concludes that these risk factors are unlikely to change unless major policy changes are enacted. The foremost of which, Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA), is currently on hold awaiting a decision by the Supreme Court. DAPA is a type of deferred action that would provide work authorization and temporary protection for deportation of unauthorized parents of citizen and legal immigrant children. The MPI report finds that as many as 86 percent of children of unauthorized immigrants have parents who would be eligible for DAPA. If enacted, in addition to providing these children with better opportunities through the improved immigration status of their parents, the implications for the wellbeing of children of unauthorized immigrants could be significant.

MPI did not specifically examine access to health coverage or health care for children with undocumented immigrant parents. However, we at CCF along with The Children’s Partnership recently released a report that found that immigration relief to parents, through programs like DAPA, could provide an opportunity to enroll hundreds of thousands of already eligible but hard-to-reach children in health insurance programs in California alone. Roughly half of the remaining uninsured children living in immigrant families (about 2 million children total), and about 80 percent of the children of unauthorized immigrants are U.S. citizens likely eligible for Medicaid and CHIP. DAPA could provide a welcome mat for parents and a catalyst for connecting many uninsured children with coverage when their parents apply for immigration relief.

John Allison is a graduate student at the Georgetown University McCourt School of Public Policy and serves as a CCF intern.