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Where will Obama’s immigration action have the biggest impact?

26 Nov

“We are a nation of immigrants,” President Obama declared last week, as he announced the executive actions he’s taking to defer the deportation of approximately 5 million undocumented immigrants.

While the president’s actions do impact the whole nation, there’s a reason he chose to deliver those remarks at Del Sol High School in Las Vegas, Nevada.

As many 67,000 people in Nevada could be eligible to stay in the nation legally under Mr. Obama’s actions, according to the Migration Policy Institute (MPI). While other states will have more eligible candidates, the impact of the new programs may be greatest in Nevada, where undocumented immigrants account for nearly 8 percent of Nevada’s total population — greater than in any other state.

Nationwide, there are an estimated 11.4 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States.

In some states with low unauthorized immigrant populations, Mr. Obama’s actions “will pretty much be a non event,” Michael Fix, president of MPI, told CBS News.

But in other states, like Illinois, “it’s a huge deal,” said Vanessa Esparza-Lopez, an attorney for the Chicago-based National Immigrant Justice Center. There are more than 510,000 undocumented immigrants in Illinois. According to MPI, an estimated 280,000 of them could receive temporary legal status under Mr. Obama’s actions.

Esparza-Lopez said her clients are breathing a “sigh of relief.”

Mr. Obama on Tuesday traveled to Chicago to meet with community leaders at the Copernicus Community Center and discuss his executive actions.

“Immigrants have made this city,” Mr. Obama said. “We are Swedish and Polish and German and Italian — everybody’s Irish on St. Patrick’s Day.”

Specifically, Mr. Obama has issued memos to shield certain undocumented immigrants from deportation and allow them to apply for a three-year work permit if they can pass a background check, register with the government, submit biometric data, and establish they are eligible for relief. The new offer applies to the parents of children who were either born in the U.S. or are lawful permanent residents. It also applies to children who were brought into the country illegally prior to January 1, 2010, and have lived in the U.S. for at least five years. The latter category represents an expansion of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA), which previously required applicants to have arrived before June 15, 2007.

MPI’s estimates show that the changes will have the biggest impact in California, where more than 1.5 million immigrants are estimated to qualify. That includes 1,116,000 immigrants who are eligible as parents and an estimated 456,000 who should be eligible under the expanded version of DACA.

Texas has an estimated 743,000 eligible unauthorized immigrants, while New York has 338,000.

There are other ways to measure which states will see the greatest impact, Fix pointed out. For instance, there are just 27,000 unauthorized immigrants in Arkansas who are estimated to be eligible for the new programs. However, the new rules could have a major impact on Arkansas’ foreign-born population, since nearly 40 percent of immigrants are undocumented. Other states where undocumented immigrants represent a high share of the foreign-born population include Mississippi, North Carolina and Idaho.

Earlier immigration reforms — including the initial version of DACA enacted in 2012 and the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act — offer a preview of the sort of impact those states may see.

The 1986 law, which granted legal status to about 3 million immigrants, had some clear short-term impacts, Fix said. “What you see is people’s job stability increases a bit, their incomes rise a bit, and they eventually sign up for classes and learn some English.”

On a more micro level, Esparza-Lopez said that granting legal status to certain residents allows them open bank accounts and credit cards — increasing their purchasing power and making them more valuable to the greater economy — while giving them access to better job opportunities. In certain states, legal status permits immigrants to get a driver’s license and take state driving tests.

Additionally, Esparza-Lopez said, DACA has “had great psychological benefits — not having to deal day to day with the fear of being separated from family members really puts people at ease.”

Given that Mr. Obama’s actions focus on parents and youth, they should also have a significant impact on schools.

“What we are learning from the social science literature is that growing up with an undocumented mother leads over time to delays in terms of cognitive development,” Fix said. Consequently, “

One dimension of this could be better school performance, better attendance — just better outcomes when [students] are relieved of some of the stress they feel and presumably when their family income rises, even quite modestly.”

In Illinois, an estimated 8.2 percent of students have at least one undocumented parent. In Nevada, that figure reaches 18 percent.

Additionally, the reforms could mean some of those students — if they are legal residents — could have more access to health care coverage. Unauthorized immigrants are barred from signing up from Obamacare, but their children are eligible if they are citizens. Undocumented parents may have feared that enrolling their children in health insurance would put their families at risk of being separated, but they may now be encouraged to seek out coverage for their children.

The White House has released its own data, through its Council of Economic Advisers (CEA), about the overall impact Mr. Obama’s actions should have on the economy. The CEA estimated that his actions would increase economic output by 0.4 to 0.9 percent over 10 years — corresponding to increases in GDP of $90 billion to $210 billion in 2024. The CEA also contends the actions won’t impact employment opportunities for “native workers,” but they will expand the tax base since many undocumented residents don’t pay taxes.

The ultimate impact of Mr. Obama’s reforms will depend largely on just how many people actually take advantage of them. According to MPI, only 55 percent of those who qualified for the original version of DACA had applied by July of this year.

There are several reasons people may not apply.

“There’s going to be a segment of the population that just will not apply because of fear of giving their information to the government, fear of exposing family members who are not eligible,” Esparza-Lopez said. Coming up with the $465 application filing fee can be a challenge for some, while proving five years of residency in the U.S. may be difficult as well. Meanwhile, others may be waiting for more permanent solutions from Congress, or they could be stymied by misinformation and fraudulent programs.

Different states and communities also have different levels of support systems for unauthorized immigrants. Esparza-Lopez said the National Immigrant Justice Center is engaging in vigorous outreach now, before the application process for the new programs is published. Community organizations and government agencies have partnered up for a statewide campaign to help unauthorized immigrants apply, called Illinois is Ready.

After learning from the first iteration of DACA, “We’re really making a concerted effort to all be on one page and use our resources together, to try to have a bigger reach this time around,” Esparza-Lopez said.

Fix said that under the original DACA, states with perceived anti-immigrant climates actually had larger turnouts of applicants.

“People signed up defensively,” he explained. For instance, states that refuse driver’s licenses to unauthorized immigrants saw higher turnouts than states that don’t refuse them.

“Where the incentives and yields of legal status are higher, that’s where people come forward,” Fix said.