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New Studies Show Gulf Between Actual Immigrant Experience & Portrayal on Campaign Trail

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Two new studies underscore the gulf between the actual immigrant experience in America and the one often portrayed by Republicans on the 2016 campaign trail and in Congress.  The studies, from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine and the Migration Policy Institute (MPI), also show how immigration policy changes can impact lives for better or worse.

As leading Republican presidential contenders portray a nation under siege by immigrants who harm America and refuse to assimilate, the new report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, entitled “The Integration of Immigrants into American Society,” shows the diametric opposite to be true.  As Julia Preston summarizes about the National Academies report in the New York Times:

“The newest generations of immigrants are assimilating into American society as fast and broadly as the previous ones, with their integration increasing over time ‘across all measurable outcomes,’ according to a report published on Monday by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine.

Immigrants’ education levels, the diversity of their jobs, their wages and their mastery of English improved as they lived for more time in the United States, and the gains were even greater for their American-born children, the report concluded.

…The report looked at 41 million foreign-born people — including about 11.3 million immigrants here illegally — and their children born in the United States, about 37 million Americans.  Taken together, the two generations include one in four people in this country. English language learning ‘is happening as rapidly or faster now than it did for earlier waves of mainly European immigrants in the 20th century,’ the report found.

…On crime, the report found that over all, immigrant men 18 to 39 were incarcerated at about one-fourth the rate of American men in that group. ‘Cities and neighborhoods with greater concentrations of immigrants have much lower rates of crime and violence’ than similar places without immigrants, the report said.”

Meanwhile, we are just beginning to fully reckon with the lasting toll of the ramped-up immigration enforcement conducted during the initial years of the Obama Administration and aided and abetted by a Republican Party whose only unifying immigration policy goal is ever-greater enforcement.  The record numbers of deportations conducted in the initial years of the Administration is having a detrimental effect on the thousands of families and children who are now separated from their mom or dad, as a new study from the Migration Policy Institute demonstrates.  As Lydia DePillis writes in a Washington Post summary, entitled, “The U.S. Has Deported More than Half a Million Parents Since 2009.  Here’s What Happens to their Kids:”

“If there’s one issue animating the presidential campaign of frontrunner Donald Trump, it’s America’s 11.3 million illegal immigrants, many of whom Trump says he would deport.  Along with the practical difficulties of doing so, however, new research shows the devastating effects on children when their parents are sent back home.

The Obama administration has already expelled about 3.7 million people who were living here illegally between 2009 and 2013.  While the pace of deportations has slowed dramatically, with a shift in enforcement towards weeding out those who have actually committed crimes in America, the Migration Policy Institute estimates that several hundred thousand children have either one or no parents in America as a result. And 5.3 million children are still living with unauthorized parents, constantly under threat of losing one or both.

We’re just starting to understand the impact that losing a mother — or, much more often, a father — can have on those kids’ development.…

…The first [MPI study], a survey of smaller-scale studies conducted on unauthorized immigrant families, shows that the effects of losing a parent to deportation are basically the same as what happens when a parent goes to prison: Kids can become homeless, bounce around to different family members, lose focus in school, and undergo long-lasting psychological trauma.  One study found that family income dropped by 70 percent in the six months following a deportation, and one quarter of families in that situation reported going hungry.

The second [MPI study], a synthesis of field work at study sites in California, Florida, Texas, South Carolina, and Illinois, found all of those impacts — and also identified gaps in social services that are ill-equipped to handle the special needs of children whose families have been ruptured by immigration rules.”

According to Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice, “It’s clear that today’s immigrants are motivated by the same pursuit of a better life for themselves and their families in America as in the past. Unfortunately, too many Republicans, in Congress and on the campaign trail, find it easy to ignore these facts and to instead prey on fears of the ‘other.’  These distorted views undermine the pursuit of policies that keep families together and encourage integration.”

While the MPI study offers disturbing evidence about the excesses of immigration enforcement, we also see new reminders about how pro-immigrant policies can change lives for the better.  At ThinkProgress, Esther Yu-Hsi Lee tells the story of Denisse Rojas – a DACA recipient who is now attending the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai:

“Denisse Rojas, a 25-year-old Mexican immigrant who arrived in this country when she was just six months old, has dreamed of becoming a doctor. She wants to do her part to close the health care disparities she witnessed firsthand in her community.

‘I saw my family member pass away three months after being diagnosed of gastric cancer,’ Rojas recounted in an interview with ThinkProgress. ‘She couldn’t afford a doctor’s visit.  I realized how vulnerable we were.  Seeing the disparities in my family and my community made me excited to be a doctor.’

…thanks to her status as an undocumented immigrant, Rojas’ professional goals once seemed impossible.  Federal immigration law prohibits undocumented immigrants living in several states from receiving public benefits, including professional licenses.  As a result, medical schools have long discouraged undocumented immigrants from applying to their programs, since students wouldn’t be able to apply for the necessary license to practice medicine.  Applicants must also provide a Social Security number as proof of identity to apply for the license, which many undocumented immigrants do not have.

That all changed, however, when Rojas was granted a number through the president’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. The program allows beneficiaries to receive temporary work authorization and deportation relief.

Rojas is one of 140 people who was admitted to the prestigious Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai this semester — and one of the first two undocumented immigrants to ever be accepted into the school.  Now that she’s received her white coat, she is hoping to go into primary care or emergency medicine and she plans to help the underserved immigrant population living in New York City, where her new school is located.”