Comprehensive immigration reform for our children’s sake

The Supreme Court recently announced that they will hear a case that could fundamentally improve the educational landscape for more than five million U.S. citizen children. The case, United States v. Texas, has blocked an initiative that would allow millions of aspiring Americans an opportunity to apply for temporary relief from deportation and obtain work authorization, allowing them to contribute more fully in their children’s daily lives. 

This initiative, called the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents, or DAPA, was announced by President Obama in 2014 to help fix parts of our dysfunctional immigration system. DAPA, along with the expansion of a similar initiative affecting immigrants who came here as children (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals or DACA), was challenged in the courts by Texas and 25 other states shortly after the president’s announcement.  But let’s be clear: DAPA and the DACA expansion provide only a temporary reprieve from deportation,  not a green card or even a pathway to citizenship.   

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Most people on both sides of the argument have focused on how the president’s immigration initiatives would affect the adults applying for this temporary reprieve from deportation. What these legal observers and pundits fail to notice is that the biggest potential beneficiaries of the immigration measures announced by Obama are U.S. citizen children who suffer the consequences of our broken immigration system on a daily basis. 

Thousands of U.S. born children are terrorized that their parents will be picked up at night or will not be home when they get out of school. Ongoing ICE raids are bad for the development of children who need the love and comfort of their parents. 

Teachers and school support staff get a first-hand look at the damage caused by immigration policies. Their students are unable to focus on their homework and dissocialize because they are too busy worrying about the safety of their parents. The psychological impact on children is alarming; students express their terror daily and react to the real threat of separation. 

Studies show that the damage our inhumane immigration system causes extends beyond the classroom. These U.S. citizen children suffer from heightened anxiety, reduced access to health care, and greater food insecurity than their peers. 

Obama’s immigration directives could help solve these problems, but his efforts have been stymied by a politically motivated lawsuit that seeks to turn back the clock on commonsense immigration measures. Although other court decisions have affirmed the legality of the president’s moves, the federal district and circuit courts in Texas v. United States have taken the opposite view, allowing an injunction to block these much-needed initiatives. 

We know that entire families, along with local economies, benefit when immigrants are allowed to apply for deportation relief and work authorization.

A survey conducted by the National Immigration Law Center, the Center for American Progress, and UC San Diego professor Tom Wong showed that immigrants who received work authorization through the DACA program were able to contribute much more fully to their communities. DACA recipients’ hourly wages increased by 45 percent on average, making them much better able to provide for their families. Even more encouraging, 92 percent of respondents who are in school said they were pursuing educational opportunities that were previously unavailable to them.

And we know the impact that parents have when they are engaged in their children’s education – studies have shown a clear correlation between parent involvement and student achievement, regardless of students’ ages and socio-economic background. 

Texas and other plaintiffs argue that states bear a financial burden when DAPA is bestowed upon its residents. But they fail to take into account the tremendous societal cost incurred by failing to provide our youngest and most vulnerable citizens with the tools they need to succeed, both in the classroom and beyond. Furthermore, economic surveys show that all states’ tax coffers would swell under DAPA. 

The stakes in United States v. Texas are high, not just for immigrant families, but for all of us committed to having a well-educated society and preparing our nation’s future workforce for success. If we fail to take these crucial steps toward fixing our immigration system, we prevent millions of children from achieving their full potential. Inaction is simply not an option. 

Ricker is the executive vice-president of the American Federation of Teachers. Hincapié is the executive director of the National Immigration Law Center.

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