A new report discusses the rapidly developing underclass of children of undocumented immigrants. Note: 81% of these children are US citizens, not illegal immigrants.

The study concluded that more than five million children in the United States are “at risk of lower educational performance, economic stagnation, blocked mobility and ambiguous belonging” because they are growing up in immigrant families affected by illegal status. . .

“Unauthorized status casts a big shadow that really extends to citizen as well as undocumented children,” Marcelo Suárez-Orozco, a professor of education at New York University who is an author of the study, said on Tuesday. “It affects their cognitive development, engagement in school and their ability to be emerging citizens.”

The Harvard study reports that “fear and vigilance” guide the home lives of young children whose parents are illegal immigrants, making the parents significantly less likely to engage with teachers or be active in schools.

Many illegal immigrant parents work long hours in low-wage jobs, sometimes more than one job. New research on very young children cited in the Harvard study showed that the undocumented parents’ difficult work conditions “contribute substantially to the lower cognitive skills of children in their families.” This was true even though the children were more likely to be in two-parent families than American children as a whole.

As teenagers, children without legal status face a hard awakening when they apply for jobs, driver’s licenses or financial aid for college and discover they are not legally qualified for any of them. Their paths diverge from siblings who are American citizens by birthright.

“In late adolescence, they start to realize their legal limitations, and their worlds turn completely upside down,” said Roberto G. Gonzales, a sociologist at the University of Chicago whose research on college-age illegal immigrants is cited in the Harvard study.

Academic achievement does little to lift the prospects of illegal immigrants who have grown up here. Out of 150 immigrants Professor Gonzales studied in depth, 31 had completed college or advanced degrees, but none were in a career that matched their educational training. Many were working low-wage jobs like their parents.

The Harvard study found that many illegal immigrant youths, facing the “reduced promise of mobility,” had dropped out of school and begun the search for work they could do without legal papers, “forced deeper and deeper into an underground work force.”

The researchers said that a generation of young illegal immigrants raised in this country was moving toward “perpetual outsider-hood.”

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