One of the most contested subjects during the 2016 Presidential race has been on the topic of immigration and law reform. While the Obama Administration sought to extend amnesty within particular limitations to illegal immigrants without criminal backgrounds, the new Trump Administration takes a harder, more punitive stance.
If President-Elect Trump follows through on his campaign platform of immediately deporting every known illegal immigrant, the repercussions for adults and children in need of services will be impacted. What will happen to American-born children of illegal immigrants? What can families (where one or more parents are undocumented immigrants) expect of the incoming reform and change of political climate regarding illegal residency?
Understanding the Scope of the Problem
The Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) estimated that until the most recent recession (which has impacted job availability), there was an average of 500,000 illegal immigrants entering and remaining in the United States on an annual basis. Many Americans view the flood of illegal immigration to be a victimless crime, as the immigrants are unable to access social programs (without landed residence status or work visas), and therefore the impact on the social support system would be minimal. Many illegal immigrants do find gainful employment, but work “under the table” for cash, or barter for rent and other living essentials.
However, the rapid and often uncontrollable influx of illegal immigrants does tax social programs that they are able to access. Since documentation (work visas) are impossible to acquire, illegal immigrants can evade income taxes. A study by the National Academy of Sciences determined a substantial shortfall between the tax revenue contributed by illegal immigrants, and the cost of emergency healthcare, education, and other services that they acquire.
Another economic problem experienced by an increase in illegal immigrants in the United States is the suppression of lower income jobs for individuals without skills or education. A segment of the lower-income American population competes for minimum wage to under $10 per hour jobs, against illegal immigrants. This group also includes jobs for entry-level young adults in service industries, retail, warehousing, and the restaurant industry. Minority lower income workers are the hardest hit by the competition for jobs against undocumented U.S. residents.
An estimated 11.4 million immigrants lived in the United States in January 2012, per the United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS). In 2007, the number was estimated to peak at 12 million illegal immigrants, but has been declining slowly, in part due to job scarcity.
A closer examination of the most recent 2016 statistics from the Pew Research Center reveals:
- Eight million unauthorized immigrants in the United States, in 2014.
- 26 percent of illegal immigrants were employed in the agricultural sector.
- 15 percent of illegal immigrants were employed in construction occupations.
- Undocumented immigrants account for only five percent of the domestic labor force.
- 66 percent of undocumented immigrants have been in the United States for ten years or longer. The average illegal immigrant was present and employed unlawfully for 13.6 years.
- 59 percent of unauthorized immigrants reside in six states: California, Texas, Florida, New York, New Jersey, and Illinois.
The long-standing issue with illegal immigrants, and the increasing volume of attempts to gain unlawful residency in the United States, is a large-scale problem. One that has far-reaching social and economic reverberations.
The Misconception of Immigration Eligibility Through “Anchor Babies”
The term “anchor baby” was coined in response to the long-held belief that giving birth to a child on American soil would grant automatic citizenship or landed immigrant status for parents. After all, what compassionate law would seek to separate families, when American-born children were entitled to all the rights of standard U.S. citizens?
It is on that moral ground that the misconception has been allowed to proliferate among immigrant communities. Another misunderstanding about the laws that pertain to landed resident status is that an illegal citizen who has children with an American citizen will be granted residency if they are married. The administrative intention of “anchor babies” has been to blur the lines, based on compassion, within the established American immigration system.
Any adult who is living in the United States without being vetted by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and Homeland Security is legally entitled to incarceration and deportation without exception. Unless the resident has applied for refugee status (which must be filed and administered as an application through the USCIS), illegal aliens – regardless of the country of origination – have no status, and they are charged with a misdemeanor for the first offense. Any subsequent arrests for being in America beyond visitation limitations results in a felony charge and a prison sentence.
The Discussed Contingency Plan for U.S.-Born Children
Strategically, while illegal immigrants do not wish to be separated from their children, the possibility of making them a ward of family members who have landed status is advantageous. If deported from the United States for a misdemeanor (first time) or felony (multiple arrests for illegal residency), the success rate of applying for legal status is greatly diminished. Illegal residents know that once they have been incarcerated the first time, they have minimized their ability to successfully apply for landed status. The DHS and USCIS both define felony and misdemeanor charges as disqualifiers.
However, if a child is raised in the United States by other family members, he or she may be able to, upon attaining the age of majority, petition to have immediate family members rejoin them. While the immigration process is arduous and expensive, it is possible for children to sponsor parents later.
While there have been recent legal challenges to the 14th Amendment, which provides that a child born in the United States is entitled to automatic naturalization and citizenship, the law provides protection for children through state child welfare programs (in the event that they are not made a ward of legalized family members living within the country).
Social and child welfare programs can anticipate an increased strain, if Donald Trump provides an executive order and issues aggressive deportation investigations, as he has promised to do.