Millions of Children & Families Give Thanks for Immigration Actions

Children of Immigrants

Lexie is one of many children I’ve met over the past few years who has been impacted every day of her life by our nation’s broken immigration system. She just turned 10-years-old a few days ago, the day right after the President made his announcement about his plans to proceed with administrative immigration reforms that will help protect millions of parents and youth from being needlessly deported. The last time I spoke with Lexie, she was one of 4.5 million U.S. citizen children living in a mixed-status family who feared every day of losing a parent due to immigration enforcement measures. A few months ago, she told me, “Who will take care of me and my brother if my mom gets taken away? We are too little to take care of ourselves.”

Rosa is a mother who struggles as a single mother to take care of her U.S. citizen son. She became a single mother when her husband was apprehended and later deported last year, the day right before her son’s 8th birthday. She is also undocumented, and now lives with family members and struggles to hold two jobs to make ends meet for her and her son. Even despite working more than 60 hours a week, she still volunteers on Sundays at her church and is constantly looking for ways to ease her son’s sadness. She worries about things like asking someone to drive her son to the mall to visit Santa because she can’t get a driver’s license due to her immigration status.

Lexie and Rosa represent the stories of millions of women and children who have suffered as a result of record deportations in recent years—suffering detrimental impacts to their health, safety, economic security, and overall well-being. Their stories are featured in a recent report The Heart of the Matter: Women, Children, and Way Forward on Immigration Policy which was released last week by We Belong Together, First Focus, and the Institute for Women in Migration (IMUMI). The bi-national report highlights the impact of immigration laws on women and children and proposes common sense policies to guide both executive action and legislation that meets the needs of women, children, and the country as a whole.

And just last week, both Lexie and Rosa’s lives were changed because Lexie’s mother and Rosa both qualify for relief under the President’s new programs. In total, the President’s actions are expected to impact 4.9 million undocumented community members, nearly half of the U.S. undocumented immigrant population.

The expanded Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program will extend to those who were too old to qualify for the 2012 DACA program as the new program removes the upper age cap and modifies the required date of continuous presence. These changes to DACA are estimated to allow more than 300,000 more people who entered the U.S. as children to benefit from the successful program.

The new Deferred Action for Parental Accountability (DAPA) program will provide up to 4.1 million parents of U.S. citizens and lawfully permanent residents (LPRs) who have resided in the U.S. for at least five years to apply for a three-year renewable reprieve from deportation and work authorization. This new program will ensure that millions of children will no longer have to fear being needlessly separated from parents, with nearly 6.9 percent of the U.S. K-12 child population impacted by the announcement last week. The program will also enable parents to better provide and care for their children by helping them to secure more stable employment and mitigating the fear of government agencies.

That means that this Thanksgiving, millions of aspiring Americans will be able to give thanks not only for their families, but also for the ability to stay together.

However, while many families will be giving thanks, others will also be continuing to hope for additional reforms to the system to ensure that all parents and family members are shielded from the threat of deportation. For example, the parents of DREAMers will not qualify for the program unless they also have a U.S. citizen or LPR child. And for families like Rosa’s, who can celebrate the new relief available to a mother, must still feel the ache of a missing father at the dinner table. To provide long-term relief to our community, Congress must complete the work the President started and pass immigration reform legislation with a path to citizenship.

Thus, while we celebrate and give thanks this holiday weekend, let us also remember and commit ourselves to the millions of more children and families we still need to fight for.

Stay tuned for more analysis on the impact of the executive actions on children, coming soon from First Focus.

For more information on the new deferred action programs and other immigration actions, please visit the USCIS resource page as well as updates from our friends at the National Immigration Law Center.