A new study by the Pew Hispanic Center shows that Latino children now make up 22% of all children under the age of 18 in the U.S.—a huge increase from 9% in 1980. A majority of these kids (52%) are “second generation,” meaning that they are the U.S.-born children of at least one foreign-born parent. And of that group, roughly two-thirds are born into families where both parents are legally authorized immigrants. Only 11% are “first generation,” meaning that they themselves are foreign-born, and 37% are “third generation” or higher.
Pew estimates that only 7% of all Latino children are undocumented immigrants. Pew also found that a growing share of the children with unauthorized immigrant parents—4 million or 73%—were born in this country and are U.S. citizens. As the vast majority of these kids are U.S. citizens, nearly all of them will be raised and educated in the U.S. and become tomorrow’s workers, taxpayers, and parents. So before anti-immigrant groups use these numbers to argue that immigration costs the nation too much—i.e. the cost of educating these children, who are our country’s future leaders—we should review a National Academies study that reminds us that a child’s education is an investment: “Children who consume services and pay no taxes today become contributing taxpayers tomorrow.”
But for the group of children born into mixed status families, Pew’s findings also highlight the impact deportation-driven immigration policies have on U.S. citizens. When their immigrant parents are deported, U.S. citizen children are often left in the untenable situation of remaining in the U.S., separated from their parents, or being effectively “deported” to a country they do not know. Decision makers in Congress and the Administration should look closely at the new Pew numbers and the impact that their policies will have on American families.
How the U.S. treats immigrants and their children is also important for another reason. Last year, the Immigration Policy Center (IPC) released a report on the growing political power of immigrants and their children. “New American Voters,” are defined as immigrants who have become U.S. citizens (Naturalized Americans) and the U.S.‐born children of immigrants who were raised during the current era of large‐scale immigration from Latin America and Asia which began in 1965. These voters have a powerful and highly personal connection to the modern immigrant experience that most other Americans do not. Not surprisingly, polling data found that immigrant voters care deeply about immigration issues and, to some extent, base voting decisions on candidates’ and parties’ positions on immigration.
These voters proved to be pivotal during the 2008 presidential elections. New Americans provided Obama with the critical, extra push he needed to win in Indiana and North Carolina, without which victory would not have been possible, and played a significant role in winning Virginia.
Immigrants and their children will continue to play an important role in U.S. society and politics. The Census Bureau predicts that by 2025, nearly 3 in 10 children in the U.S. will be of Latino ancestry. These families must be taken into account as Congress moves forward on immigration reform, health care reform, and other important issues since immigrants and their children will certainly be watching Congress and their actions come election day.
Michele Waslin, Ph.D., is the Senior Policy Analyst at the Immigration Policy Center. She has authored several publications on immigration policy and post-9/11 immigration issues. Ms. Waslin appears regularly in English and Spanish-language media. Previously, she worked as Director of Immigration Policy Research at the National Council of La Raza (NCLR) and Policy Coordinator at the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights. She received her Ph.D. in 2002 in Government and International Studies from the University of Notre Dame, and holds an M.A. in International Relations from the University of Chicago and a B.A. in Political Science from Creighton University.