For many non-citizens who either cross the southern U.S. border illegally or overstay a visa, settling down and giving birth to children might be natural next steps in their family's life. A baby who is born in the U.S. becomes a U.S. citizen automatically. But does that mean that the parents receive any added rights to immigrate to the U.S.; in particular, to avoid removal (deportation)?
The answer is not a simple one, for the reasons laid out below.
U.S. immigration law allows U.S. citizens to petition for their parents to receive green cards; but only after the U.S. citizen child turns 21. Staying in the U.S. without permission for all that time could be difficult and lead to negative immigration consequences.
Leaving the U.S. with the child is the safer option, if one is willing to embark on a long-term plan of having the child return as an adult and then petition for the parents. But since the subject of this article is whether the U.S. citizen child can help the parents avoid deportation, that's a topic that we're assuming isn't as relevant or attractive to readers.
Anyone who entered the U.S. illegally (without inspection) faces further complications in seeking to obtain a green card through family.
When the child turns 21 and petitions for them, they won't be able to stay in the United States to complete the green card application. (Only parents of U.S. citizens whose last entry to the U.S. was a legal one can do that.) Instead, they will need to go to a visa interview at a U.S. consulate.
The consular officer will then inquire as to whether each parent is "inadmissible" on various grounds; in particular, for having spent more than 180 days (six months) in the U.S. illegally while over the age of 18. If so, the person might be barred from the U.S. for either three or ten years. See How soon can the U.S.-born child of an undocumented immigrant petition for the parent? for additional discussion of this issue.
Some people can potentially apply for a waiver of the unlawful presence ground of inadmissibility, but only if they can prove that being denied the visa would cause extreme hardship to their own U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident parents or spouse or U.S. citizen fiancé. Hardship to U.S. citizen children does NOT count in this context.
After turning 21 and petitioning for the parents, the child will need to be living in the United States and earning enough money to serve as the parents' financial sponsor, in order to ensure that they will be supported at a level that takes them above the U.S. Poverty Guidelines. That could be a tall order for a child of that age. But it could be overcome if the family has enough assets to make up the difference.
Another relevant government policy you might have heard of is known as "prosecutorial discretion" or "deferred action." Because U.S. immigration enforcement authorities ("ICE") cannot deport everyone, they typically concentrate their efforts on high priority cases such as criminals, and drop the cases of people with many ties to the United States, including family.
By granting "prosecutorial discretion," the authorities wouldn't give the parents of a U.S. citizen a green card or anything like it, but they would promise not to deport them for the present.
Under the Trump Administration, ICE dropped this set of priorities, and attempted to deport virtually any undocumented immigrant with whom it comes into contact. Among the Biden Harris administration's first acts was to reestablish enforcement priorities and bring back the possibility of deferred action and prosecutorial discretion. Unfortunately, a federal court struck down that enforcement priority list, and a higher court put that court's order on hold, so the matter remains unsettled. In any case, the government's approach is still unlikely to return to the harsh days of the Trump era in the near future.
Even undocumented parents who are placed into removal proceedings might not be out of luck. If they have been living in the U.S. a long time, it might be possible to apply for what's called Cancellation of Removal (under I.N.A.) § 240A(b)(1)(D)), based on:
Living in the U.S. illegally in hopes of eventually immigrating is something that immigration law discourages, with numerous specific consequences. Your best best is to consult with an experienced immigration attorney.