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Immigration: 5.5 Million US Citizen Children Affected by DAPA Decision, Report Says

First Posted: Jun 24, 2015 03:16 PM EDT
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An estimated 5.5 million U.S. citizen children whose parents are undocumented could be affected by the upcoming decision from the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals regarding Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA), according to a new report. The executive action is currently blocked while a lawsuit filed by 26 states makes its way through the courts.

Dr. Manuel Pastor, a Professor of Sociology and American Studies & Ethnicity at the University of Southern California, estimates in his report "The Kids Aren't Alright -- But They Could Be: The Impact of Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA) on Children" that around 5.5 million U.S.-born children could benefit from DAPA. Including children who are U.S. residents, the number of children with DAPA-eligible parents surpasses 6 million.

However, with DAPA and DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) "caught up in the courts millions of mix status immigrant families have been left in a legal limbo," said Marielena Hincapie of the National Immigration Law Center (NILC). She continued to argue that not enough focus has been placed on how the lawsuit affects the lives of children and instead focuses on the political ramifications.

During a press call, a group of researchers and activists gathered information explaining how the lawsuit blocking DAPA negatively affects American citizen children. They argue overall that these children are being caused harm by the lawsuit since DAPA would improve their living situation rather than having them live in fear, stress and instability.

Bruce Lesley, president of the bipartisan family advocacy group First Focus, argued some of the states currently suing the federal government over the executive actions would benefit the most from it, including Texas, Arizona, and Nevada.

"Up to 70 percent of children living in those states could be positively impacted by DAPA," Lesley said. Yet, families' precarious situations also cause many children harm, depriving them of a more stable living without fear.

Lesley first outlined how the block on DAPA impacts children. Currently, many of them live in poor conditions because their parents have to work for low wages. Many also live with constant emotional and mental stress, fearing the separation of their families.

In six months in 2011, 46,000 parents of U.S. citizen children were deported, the Center for American Progress revealed in a report. Two years later, the number stood at 72,410 deportations, reported Huffington Post. Though Immigration and Custom Enforcement (ICE) argued most of the deportations were valid since those removed had criminal records. However, 10,700 of these parents and guardians had no legal conviction

Professor Joanna Dreby of SUNY Albany and author of "Everyday Illegal: When Policies Undermine Immigrant Families" expressed similar concerns about how immigration policy affects children and their families.

Dreby explained that immigration policy primarily focuses on men, so when a father in a family is deported, the mother takes on the burden of caring for the children while also working to survive. Many women, Dreby explained, had not been their family's breadwinners, forcing them to find jobs.

Education is another area where many of these children suffer due to their families' situation with many children falling behind or not properly learning, because of outside factors.

In "Removing Insecurity: How American Children Will Benefit from President Obama's Executive Action on Immigration," Professor Roberto Suro argued children could endure serious developmental risks because of anxiety. Children of undocumented immigrants have shown behavioral issues stemming from fear over their parents' status. All these factors make them more vulnerable to have "lower cognitive skills than comparable children in families without immigration issues."

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, explained how many teachers had become frustrated and angry over their students' family situation and, in at least one case, had mobilized to help their students.

When Alabama passed some of the nation's "most draconian" immigration laws, teachers banded together and pushed to stop other teachers "snitching" on their students. Students with undocumented parents were in a "constant state of anxiety" and would not reveal who their parents were or allow friends to visit them at home.

During her research, Prof. Dreby encountered one case in which a 10-year-old girl told her she was afraid her family would be deported because "policiales are looking for people that don't have papers to be here."

She added that even children of legal migrants feared their parents would be deported.

Stigma surrounding immigration is something else children must deal with. Elementary school students told Prof. Dreby "immigrants are people who are illegal...who are not allowed to be here."

Prof. Suro said children are in these situations, "because of a policy failure." Children should not be punished for their parent's status, he continued.

Currently, DAPA as well as the extended DACA remain blocked as the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals prepares to hear new arguments on July 10. A three-judge panel will decide whether or not the president's executive actions are constitutional or not. If the panel rules against the government, which Hincapie fears may happen due to how conservative the court is, the case may be heard by the full court or appeal to the Supreme Court.

NILC "would urge the Justice Department to swiftly appeal [the decision] to the Supreme Court, if we find ourselves in that place," Hincapie said in the call. "Of course if it's a victory...we at the NILC continue to believe and legal scholars across the political spectrum...agree with us that the Obama administration acted on sound legal footing."

These families could wait until, at the earliest, early 2016, if the court rules in the administration's favor. Until then, they are in "legal limbo," Hincapie said.

A prolonged case could venture into the summer of 2016, when the Supreme Court announces its rulings, placing DAPA and DACA at the center of the presidential race. All the Democratic contenders have expressed support for the orders.

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