against employers who hire undocumented workers have proven ineffective in stemming the tide of workers who readily fill low-wage, low-skill jobs largely because they have not been enforced.

Formidable social risks await the large numbers of undocumented Hispanics forced to live in the shadows of mainstream America. Negative public perceptions of undocumented workers stigmatize legitimate low-wage Hispanic workers by conflating their social and legal status, and since September 11, 2001, associating illegal status with criminal status. Such views also compromise the life chances of the U.S.-born children of the undocumented. National boundaries are rendered meaningless in complex families in which some members are citizens and others are undocumented. The problems U.S.-born children of undocumented immigrants confront dramatize the social and economic risks of illegal status, and particularly the asymmetries between the children and their parents.25

In the United States, about 10 percent of children live in households in which at least one parent is a noncitizen and one child is a citizen. Legislation limiting the rights and benefits of noncitizen adults disadvantages these children, who are among the nation’s poorest as well. For example, children living with noncitizen parents constitute about a fifth of children nationwide who are uninsured. In addition, both legal and illegal noncitizen parents may be reluctant to approach public or publicly funded institutions for services, despite their children’s citizenship and eligibility.26 The result is that children of immigrants use public benefits less often than children of natives, despite higher rates of economic hardship.27


The Hispanic population in the United States, highly diverse in its origins, today represents the nation’s largest and fastest-growing minority, one characterized by a particularly youthful age structure. Its growth is fueled by both immigration and high fertility.

A large and growing number of undocumented immigrants is another distinctive feature of the Hispanic population. Against the reality of the need for and supply of unskilled workers, the social question regarding undocumented migration is not about simply stopping the flow, for its course is dictated largely by intertwined regional economies. Rather, the core questions concern the terms of admission for those who enter legally, the treatment of those who enter and work without the protection of legal

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