Immigration Profiles

State Immigration Policy and Children’s Well-Being

About 7 million children in the United States live with immigrant parents who are not U.S. citizens, and 4 million of these children live with an undocumented immigrant parent. About 80 percent of these children are U.S. citizens themselves. 

States differ in their eligibility rules for public benefits, like food assistance and public health insurance/Medicaid, based on immigration status. States and counties also differ in their policies related to immigration enforcement, such as 287(g) agreements, cooperation with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detainer requests, and driver licenses for undocumented immigrants (see definitions below).

For information about children of immigrants in each state and state safety net and enforcement policies, click on the state in the map below

Many children of non-citizen, immigrant parents have patchwork access to major public benefit programs because they or their parents are not eligible in their state of residence. Using rigorous methods, researchers have studied the consequences for children of restricting program eligibility. The evidence is clear — extending food assistance and public health insurance to non-citizen parents reduces children’s food insecurity and improves their access to health care. When parents are eligible for these types of programs, it improves their children’s health and educational outcomes. Broadening program eligibility rules for non-citizen immigrants would support the well-being of future generations of Americans.

It is not just eligibility rules that affect access to safety net programs, but also whether immigrant families live in an immigrant-friendly climate. Not only does increased immigration enforcement harm U.S. citizen children of immigrants, the evidence demonstrates that increased immigration enforcement reduces public benefit program participation due to fear, even among households with children who are eligible for these programs. It is important that programs be coupled with clear and consistent messages encouraging eligible families to participate.

The Technical Appendix describes the methods used to collect data for the State Immigration Policy Pages. 

The Longitudinal Data File provides all State Immigration Policy variables for the years 2017-2020. For policy data spanning the years 2000-2016, please visit Urban’s resource:

Special Thank You 

Dr. Chloe East, Assistant Professor of Economics at University of Colorado, Denver summarized the impact of state policies on children of immigrants, described on this landing page, and provided citations for the relevant research

Dr. James Bachmeier, Associate Professor of Sociology at Temple University. Dr. Bachmeier, used innovative methods and two data sources (the Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP) and the American Community Survey) to impute the legal status of parents in each state, displayed on the state pages.

Joseph Stinson and Susi Martinez, NCCP interns, for their diligent work collecting the immigration state policy data.

Key Definitions for State Pages

Children of undocumented immigrant parents are defined as children who live with at least one undocumented immigrant parent. Children of legal permanent resident (LPR) immigrant parents are defined as children who live with at least one LPR parent, but no undocumented immigrant parents.

Enforcement-related policies include local law enforcement cooperation with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detainers of potential offenders for possible immigration violations, 287(g) agreements that allow local law enforcement to perform some federal immigration enforcement functions, and lack of state driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrant. For more details about the definitions of these enforcement policies, please see the footnotes on the state pages.