Supreme Court Ruling Denies Temporary Relief from Deportation to 5 Million, Thwarting Protection and Stability for Millions of Children

By Olga Byrne

Last week the Supreme Court announced its deadlock in Texas v. United States, the case brought by 26 states challenging the Obama Administration’s plan to provide temporary relief from deportation to approximately 5 million people living in the United States.

But millions more children will suffer the impact of this decision. The majority of people who would have benefited from one of the two programs under fire—the DAPA program (or Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents) or the expanded DACA program (or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals)—are parents. Due to their parents’ continuing lack of status, millions of U.S. citizen and refugee children alike will be denied protection and stability.

To begin, estimates of the number of U.S. citizen children living in a household with at least one DAPA-eligible parent range from 3.7 million to 5.5 million. A study by the University of Southern California found that in California, 17 percent of all children in the state have a DAPA-eligible parent. Research has shown that deferred action would alleviate psychological, social, and developmental harms associated with having an unauthorized parent and the threat of detention and deportation. Moreover, parents benefiting from DAPA would see a 10 percent increase in their earnings, and fewer DAPA families would live in poverty.

Many of the thousands of children who have recently sought protection in the United States from ongoing violence and persecution in Central America would have also benefited. The Office of Refugee Resettlement has reported that 96 percent of unaccompanied children in its care reunify with a relative—often a parent living in the United States. While some parents may already have legal status, many live in mixed-status households that could have potentially qualified them for DAPA. (The parent must have arrived before 2010, resided in the United States continuously since then, and have had a child who is a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident as of November 2014, among other criteria.) Given the often insurmountable challenges newly arrived children face to successful integration—barriers to education, economic struggles, and even homelessness—DAPA could have provided measurable improvements in quality of life and stability for some families of refugee children.

Moreover, DAPA might have saved lives. Children facing persecution in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras are eligible to apply for in-country refugee and parole processing if they have a “qualifying parent”—one who is living in the United States with lawful status—and can therefore avoid the dangerous journey north that many are forced to take on their own. Deferred action status is included in the list of criteria making a parent eligible to file on behalf of a child in need of protection in the home country. While the “CAM” program (for Central American Minors) has come under sharp criticism for its very modest gains and limited eligibility parameters, even more children will now be excluded from possible protection.

As with all immigration policies, the rejection of Obama’s plan for administrative relief will have consequences that reach far beyond the direct victims. The failure of Congress to enact comprehensive immigration reform, and now the Supreme Court’s thwarting of administrative relief, will be an abysmal stain on this country’s record on immigrants. Congress needs to act. That is clear. But in the meantime, the administration needs to do all that it can to protect those fleeing persecution. A starting point well within the administration’s authority—would be to end the detention of children in immigration detention facilities and provide legal counsel to all children in immigration proceedings.

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Published on June 28, 2016

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