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Study: Children of Unauthorized Immigrants Face Education, Social Problems

Many immigrants come to the United States seeking a better life for their children, but a new report finds those who come to the country illegally face worse social and academic development as they grow.

The report, published as part of a special fall issue on immigration in the Harvard Educational Review, is the first to analyze research on the effect of living in a family of uncertain immigration status on children from early childhood through their entry to college and career.

Harvard and New York University researchers estimate one in 10 children and adolescents—about 5.5 million nationwide—grow up with at least one parent "unauthorized," and one million of those are illegal themselves. The researchers found a "consistent pattern" across studies of education, health, labor and other areas: "The effects of unauthorized status on development across the lifespan are uniformly negative, with millions of U.S. children and youth at risk of lower educational performance, economic stagnation, blocked mobility and ambiguous belonging."

Even when children have U.S. citizenship themselves, they had less access to early childhood education and services, from Head Start to health care, because parents either did not know how or were afraid to apply for them. The report found the children were more likely than other children to live in poverty, in racially and linguistically isolated communities and they were more likely to attend poorly supported schools and to miss school more frequently than other children. Among second-generation Latino students, the report noted that those from ethnic groups with higher proportions of undocumented immigrants performed worse on early literacy and math tests than those from groups with lower concentrations of unauthorized immigrants.

These children's parents were less likely to be involved in their education, in part because of fear of drawing attention of authorities, and the students lived in perpetual fear of being separated from their families because of deportation. The report found more than 100,000 students experienced the deportation of at least one parent in the last decade.

Moreover, children with uncertain immigration status themselves were found to have poorly paid careers even when they can achieve a college education. By the time these children reach adulthood, the researchers found, "They are members of our nation's own caste of untouchables; American in all but the law, these youth find themselves in a labyrinth ...not of their own making and with virtually all exits blocked."

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