President Obama’s announcement yesterday that nearly 5 million unauthorized immigrants will be eligible to receive a temporary stay and work permit is good news for Kentucky. By removing the fear of deportation for almost half of the undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. and increasing their access to work, the law will safeguard families, improve their economic opportunities and contributions and allow fuller participation in communities across the Commonwealth.
Briefly, the executive order:
- Builds on Obama’s 2012 initiative, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), which delays deportation and makes work permits available on a renewable basis for eligible young people who were brought to the United States as children. As of June 2014, 2,230 DACA applications from Kentucky had been approved.
- Extends eligibility for deferred action status to roughly 4.3 million unauthorized immigrants nationwide by including a larger class of childhood arrivals as well as immigrants who have been in the U.S. at least five years and whose children are legal residents.
- Does not create a pathway to legal permanent residence: the stay applies for three years at a time on a renewable basis, so long as the program is not rolled back or terminated by a future president.
- Does not extend eligibility for Social Security, Medicaid or Affordable Care Act tax credits.
According to an analysis of 2008-2012 census data by the Migration Policy Institute, one in three Kentucky undocumented immigrants ages 15 and older has a U.S. citizen child. The president’s action will provide those parents who have been here at least five years and their kids greater physical, emotional and economic security. A recent study from Pew estimates that, in 2012, two of every hundred children enrolled in Kentucky’s public elementary and secondary schools had at least one undocumented parent (compared with seven in 100, nationally). What helps the children of immigrants is good for their classmates and teachers as well.
The action will benefit immigrants and their communities in a number of ways including:
- Work permits will open a wider range of jobs to unauthorized immigrants, increasing incentives to build human capital through education and training, leading to better wages and greater economic productivity.
- Work permits may also increase pay by putting workers in a position to contest wage abuse, a significant problem for immigrants. Growing the ranks of low-wage workers with bargaining power will lift the floor for U.S. born workers whose wages are suppressed by abuse as well.
- Increased wages are especially important considering immigrants’ higher rates of poverty than U.S. born Kentuckians (one in four compared to one in five). More money in their pockets to spend on rent, school clothes and other basic needs will help the whole economy.
- The action opens the door to fuller compliance with state and federal tax laws, specifically payroll taxes, and will allow more immigrants to claim earned income and child tax credits. Some experts predict a small net gain for federal coffers and potentially for states that levy income taxes. Unauthorized immigrants already pay a substantial amount of taxes: a study from ITEP estimates they paid $59 million in state and local taxes in Kentucky in 2010.
- Based on the provisions in Kentucky that allow young people with DACA status to get a driver’s license, the expansion of deferred action will ensure that more people on Kentucky roads are tested for basic driving skills and are insured. That could make our roads safer, save our state and other drivers money, and boost revenue through car registrations and other fees.
While a pathway to citizenship that reaches more of the 35,000 undocumented immigrants living in Kentucky would be even better for our state, in the absence of comprehensive congressional immigration reform, the President’s action is a welcome improvement.