A joint USC-UCLA documents damage done to U.S.-born children who live in the shadow of a parent’s unauthorized immigration status, providing evidence for a new effort to turn back court challenges to President Barack Obama’s executive action on immigration.
The report was released in conjunction with the April 6 filing of a legal brief (Texas et al., v. United States et al.) by educational organizations and children’s rights advocates that support the administration’s position in litigation over the president’s plans to shield millions of unauthorized immigrants from deportation.
Citing the report as evidence, the brief filed with the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit argues for immediate implementation of the president’s programs in order to alleviate ongoing and serious harm to more than 5 million American children, most of them native-born U.S. citizens.
“This research shows how children pay the price for our broken immigration system,” said Wendy Cervantes, vice president of immigration and child rights policy at First Focus, a bipartisan advocacy organization dedicated to making children and families the priority in federal policy. First Focus and the American Federation of Teachers were the lead signatories of the legal brief.
What’s on the line
At stake in the case is the Deferred Action to Parents of American Citizens and Lawful Permanent Residents program (DAPA) that would grant permission to parents to remain in the United States for three years and to work legally as long as they meet a number of conditions, including residing in the U.S. continuously since 2010 and passing a criminal background check.
Assessing peer–reviewed research by leading developmental psychologists, sociologists, demographers and scholars in other fields, the USC-UCLA report constructs a broad scientific case demonstrating the life-altering benefits the American children of unauthorized immigrants would receive from the proposed administrative relief.
Reasonable minds can differ on whether there is blame to attach to the parents. There is no reasonable case to be made for punishing their children.
According to the report, studies using multiple methodologies and varied data sets have concluded that children are paying a substantial cost for a parent’s unauthorized status and that removing the fear of deportation and allowing parents to work legally can alleviate those costs.
Reframing the policy debate
“By focusing on what is at stake for millions of American children, this report and the amicus brief attempt to reframe the immigration policy debate,” said Roberto Suro, professor at the USC Price School of Public Policy and the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism and lead author of the report said. “Reasonable minds can differ on whether there is blame to attach to the parents. There is no reasonable case to be made for punishing their children. Yet every day they are being punished.”
Cervantes of First Focus added, “Professor Suro and his colleagues have shined a spotlight on the district court’s failings, but also on Congress’ failure to deliver immigration reform that works for children.”
An estimated 4.5 million American-born children, who are guaranteed legal citizen status by the U.S. Constitution, have one or both parents who are unauthorized migrants. Another three-quarters of a million children would benefit from DAPA because they are eligible to become citizens. The report and the amicus brief argue that the public interest is served by allowing these children to grow up without the specter of either a family broken by the deportation of a parent or being obliged to leave their homeland.
‘Loud and clear’
“The data are in and they speak loud and clear: The relief proposed by the president will bring very real and immediate benefits to these American children and their immigrant parents,” said Marcelo Suárez-Orozco, Wasserman dean of the Graduate School of Education & Information Studies at UCLA and one of the report’s authors. “Protecting a parent from deportation is the right thing to do. It immediately and significantly improves these children’s lives now and moving forward, enabling them to contribute productively for decades to come.”
To better understand DAPA’s potential impact, the report’s authors spent several months examining more that 50 recent studies on the children of unauthorized immigrants, including numerous highly cited scientific works published in some of the most respected academic journals in the world. The result is a wide-ranging synthesis of the state of knowledge that was made available to the legal team drafting the brief.
“By amassing research from many scholars in many fields, this report makes it clear that what is at stake in Texas, et al., v. United States et al., goes beyond the legal issues at hand: An adverse ruling could hurt the lives of millions of American children who would otherwise be the greatest beneficiaries of this policy,” said Marielena Hincapié, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center, which is coordinating legal strategy among the administration’s allies in the case.
The report is a joint effort by the Tomás Rivera Policy Institute at USC headed by Suro and the Institute for Immigration, Globalization & Education at UCLA headed by Suárez-Orozco.