Children of immigrants and immigrant children make up one-quarter of all U.S. kids and represent the fastest-growing group of children in America. Despite this, immigrant families face eligibility restrictions on federal health, housing, nutrition, and income support programs that would improve their well-being and allow them to better provide for their children. The COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately harmed immigrant families and highlighted the need for access to federal assistance programs: About 50% of low-income immigrant families reported employment or income loss due to the pandemic, restricting their ability to provide for their children and pay for health care, healthy food, and housing.

These restrictions on immigrants’ access to benefits date back to The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 (PRWORA). Only immigrants defined as “qualified” under the law can access federal public benefits. Additionally, many qualified immigrants must wait five years to become eligible for federal benefits such as Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), housing assistance programs, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). Those who have Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), Temporary Protected Status (TPS), Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS), or who are undocumented, are ineligible for most federal benefits. No child should have to wait five years — nearly a lifetime for a child — for benefits that are essential to their health and development.  

Download the full fact sheet here.