Current policy debates about unauthorized immigrants tend to focus on adults and older youth, even though children comprise a large population affected by immigration laws. A parent’s unauthorized status can negatively affect child development in regards to health and education, according to a March 2013 report by the Migration Policy Institute.
Parent-child separation is a difficult reality that immigrant families face regularly. As a result, it can cause increases in parental depression and child anxiety and behavioral problems, the report explains. The disruption of the family can leave a child with emotional damage and development harm that spills into their everyday lives.
As U.S. citizens, children of immigrants are required to have access to public programs and assistance, yet many of these children do not participate, the report adds. Parents with unauthorized status often fear their situation will be revealed and that they will be deported if they try to enroll their children in public programs, and are reluctant to enroll in programs that are means-tested and require evidence of income. Furthermore, many parents don’t understand how to access the programs for their offspring because of the language barrier. Either way, the children suffer.
Since undocumented workers are much more likely to hold low-wage jobs with poor work conditions, they face a higher risk of facing stress that could negatively affect their children’s cognitive development.
To improve the situation of the children of immigrants, the report suggests that state and local government provide better outreach and assist parents in the application process. Ultimately, the report finds that the best way to improve the well-being of this young population is to create a path to citizenship for their parents.
The Migration Policy Institute is a research organization that dedicates much of its research to the study of the movement of people.