Recent news suggests the House may fail to act this year on comprehensive immigration reform. As advocates for children, we urge House members on both sides of the aisle not to miss this opportunity to change a system that harms children every day.
Today’s immigration law “devalues” children, as Michigan State Law School Professor David Thronson wrote this year. It treats children as objects, instead of people with rights and a say in their own lives. Not surprisingly, when children interact with the system, the outcomes are often not good.
For example, when children enter the United States alone, these “unaccompanied” children must face the same consequences as adults before an immigration court, often without legal representation. And a person inadmissible to the U.S. can qualify for relief by showing hardship to a U.S. citizen spouse or other close adult relative, but the law systematically ignores the same hardship to a U.S. citizen child.
Similar double standards for deportation routinely subject kids to harm by ignoring the common-sense reality that children experience traumatic separation in more damaging and lasting ways than adults.
The consequences of this disregard for our children are devastating. Recently, during slightly more than two years, the federal government issued removal orders for more than 200,000 parents of U.S. citizen children — that’s 250 parents every day. Each deportation means children’s lives are overturned, as they are forced to either move to a country they’ve never known or face the trauma of losing a parent.
Research also shows that a parent’s detention or deportation harms a child’s mental and physical health, education, economic security and access to food. And these fears are a constant companion for 5.5 million children in mixed immigration status families, 4.5 million of whom are U.S. citizens.
An estimated 5,000 children with a detained or deported parent are currently living in our states’ overworked, under-resourced foster care systems. A new Immigration and Customs Enforcement policy, known as the Parental Interest Directive, has the potential to mitigate the harm they suffer. But only immigration reform can stop the needless deportations and provide the stability and security children need to grow and thrive.
About 1 million unauthorized immigrant children, known as DREAMers, are also growing up in our schools and communities. The Homeland Security Department’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals process has provided hundreds of thousands of DREAMers with a temporary means to finally come out of the shadows and pursue their dreams. But only immigration reform can deliver a chance for them and their families to become citizens of the country they call home.