Restoring an Inclusionary Safety Net for Children in Immigrant Families: A Review of Three Social Policies

Our article in the Health Affairs special issue "Borders, Immigrants & Health"
Published: 07.07.2021 Updated: 12.09.2022


Since the enactment of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act, known as “welfare reform,” in 1996, US social policy has increasingly stratified immigrants by legality, extending eligibility exclusions, benefit limitations, and administrative burdens not only to undocumented immigrants but also to lawful permanent residents and US citizens in immigrant families. This stratification is a form of structural discrimination, which is a social determinant of health. Children in immigrant families, most of whom are US citizens, have not been able to fully realize the benefits from social safety-net programs—including the 2020 Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act stimulus payments. Policy deliberations over pandemic recovery, the equity focus of the Biden administration, and proposals to address child poverty provide an opportunity to reexamine immigrant exclusions, restrictions, and administrative burdens in public programs. We discuss immigrant stratification by legal status in social policy and review how it affects citizen children in mixed-status families in three safety-net programs: the Earned Income Tax Credit, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, and Child Care and Development Block Grant. We provide eight policy recommendations to restore equity to the social safety net for children in immigrant families.

Headshot of Dolores Acevedo-Garcia
Dolores Acevedo-Garcia
Director, Professor of Human Development and Social Policy
Headshot of Pamela Joshi
Pamela Joshi
Policy Research Director
Emily Ruskin
Headshot of Abigail Walters
Abigail N. Walters
Research Associate
Nomi Sofer
Nomi Sofer
Strategic Communications Advisor