Photo: The Effects of Having Undocumented Immigrants as Parents: A Study
A report from a Harvard developmental and community psychologist has revealed how being undocumented parents effects the lives of their children.
In a recent Congressional briefing on “Children in Immigrant Families,” Prof. Hirokazu Yoshikawa of Harvard’s Graduate School of Education, stated, “Citizen children of undocumented parents show lower levels of early language and cognitive skills as early as at 2 years of age.”
“These parents were afraid to enroll their kids in learning opportunities like high-quality center care and particularly the child care subsidies that would help purchase that form of care. And that’s because child care subsidies, for one thing, in our country require confirmation of earnings and employment. And despite the fact that these families were making such low level of earnings, that they more than qualified for subsidies for their citizen children, they were afraid to enroll their kids,” said Prof. Yoshikawa to NPR’s Michel Martin.
“In many cases, with the undocumented moms and dads, our field workers were the first to tell them about things like public libraries. Our undocumented parents had more adults in the household, but less help with taking care of kids, help with making ends meet, help that they reported available to them. And that was puzzling to us until we realized that for the undocumented moms and dads, all the other adults in their household pretty much were undocumented as well. And that meant that the levels of information about learning opportunities for kids were just lower in these families.”
Yoshikawa performed a three-year study of 380 infants from Dominican, Mexican, Chinese, and African American families, after which he wrote “Immigrants Raising Citizens: Undocumented Parents and Their Young Children.” In it he points out that immigrants are often viewed “as an economic or labor market problem to be solved, but the issue has a very real human dimension.”
In the report to Congress, Prof. Yoshikawa highlighted the following ways in which the young citizen children are affected by their parent’s status.
Citizen children of undocumented parents show lower levels of early language and cognitive skills as early as at 2 years of age. The lower cognitive skills of children of undocumented parents, compared to children of documented parents, place them at risk for lower achievement, and ultimately lower economic productivity, later in life.
Undocumented parents experience higher economic hardship and psychological distress than documented parents. Undocumented parents in this study did not show different rates of cognitive stimulation of their young children. But they experienced hardship and psychological distress, in part due to fears of deportation, which in turn predicted lower cognitive skills in their children.
Undocumented parents experience much worse work conditions — with between 30% and 40% working below the legal minimum wage in the current study, across the 3 years of research. Undocumented parents also experienced much lower rates of wage growth than other low-wage working parents in this study. These conditions contributed to their children’s lower cognitive skills.
Despite their children’s eligibility for basic learning opportunities — center-based child care and preschool — undocumented parents face barriers to enrolling them. For example, these parents are reluctant to document their employment to enroll their citizen children in child-care subsidies. They are also reluctant to enroll their children in other supports, such as SNAP.
He recommended policy changes that included that the undocumented be brought “out of the shadows,” ensuring access to “learning opportunities for children of the undocumented, and improving the working conditions of undocumented parents.