Policies Threaten Well-Being of Children in Immigrant Families

Posted May 19, 2018
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
A mother with child. It is important for children to remain connected to their parents.

Every one of the 74 mil­lion chil­dren liv­ing in Amer­i­ca is part of our nation’s future. Each one of them is impor­tant to build­ing our country’s growth and its future pros­per­i­ty – and that includes the 18 mil­lion chil­dren grow­ing up in immi­grant fam­i­lies. And, based on decades of research, evi­dence and prac­tice, we know that chil­dren fare best in healthy, sta­ble families.

So it was dis­heart­en­ing in ear­ly 2017 when many of those 18 mil­lion chil­dren were being threat­ened with sep­a­ra­tion from their par­ents, denial of access to basic ser­vices and dan­ger­ous­ly ris­ing lev­els of stress result­ing from real fears that any knock at the front door could result in a hor­ri­ble, life-chang­ing experience.

More than a year lat­er, some of the worst fears imag­in­able are being real­ized here in our nation of immi­grants. The Cen­ter on Bud­get and Pol­i­cy Pri­or­i­ties recent­ly described numer­ous actions the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment has tak­en that jeop­ar­dize chil­dren in immi­grant fam­i­lies and their communities:

  • Step­ping up immi­gra­tion arrests in line with the president’s Jan­u­ary 2017 exec­u­tive order list­ing vir­tu­al­ly any indi­vid­ual with­out legal immi­gra­tion sta­tus as a pri­or­i­ty for deportation.
  • Declar­ing an end to the Deferred Action for Child­hood Arrivals pro­gram, which shield­ed about 800,000 young undoc­u­ment­ed immi­grants from depor­ta­tion and per­mit­ted them to legal­ly work and dri­ve in the Unit­ed States. Court injunc­tions have halt­ed the action — but only temporarily.
  • Announc­ing that it will end Tem­po­rary Pro­tect­ed Sta­tus (TPS) for about 390,000 immi­grants from Cen­tral Amer­i­ca, Haiti, Nepal and Sudan. TPS is grant­ed to for­eign nation­als who can­not return to their coun­tries because of unsafe con­di­tions or because their nations can­not han­dle their return.
  • Draft­ing a pro­posed rule that would put immi­grants at risk of being denied a green card if their fam­i­ly mem­bers, includ­ing U.S. cit­i­zen chil­dren, receive cer­tain pub­lic ben­e­fits — includ­ing nutri­tion assis­tance, Head Start and the Children’s Health Insur­ance Pro­gram — for which these chil­dren are ful­ly eli­gi­ble under fed­er­al law.
  • Endors­ing leg­is­la­tion that would deny basic food and med­ical assis­tance to fam­i­ly mem­bers of new immi­grants, bar fed­er­al grants from sanc­tu­ary cities and increase penal­ties for those charged crim­i­nal­ly for reen­ter­ing the Unit­ed States.
  • Sign­ing into law a tax bill deny­ing the Child Tax Cred­it to rough­ly 1 mil­lion chil­dren in low-income work­ing fam­i­lies who lack a Social Secu­ri­ty num­ber even though their par­ents pay pay­roll tax­es and oth­er taxes.

As an orga­ni­za­tion devot­ed to child well-being, we are par­tic­u­lar­ly con­cerned about poli­cies that result in chil­dren being unnec­es­sar­i­ly removed from their home. In our work with child wel­fare sys­tems across the coun­try, we help ensure no child is removed from a fam­i­ly unless he or she can­not safe­ly remain with their fam­i­lies. Research tells us that kids expe­ri­ence such dis­rup­tions in attach­ment to a par­ent as a trau­mat­ic injury that can have long-term consequences.

We would nev­er stand for our gov­ern­ment threat­en­ing to phys­i­cal­ly harm a child in response to a parent’s action or as a deter­rent. We would nev­er stand for our gov­ern­ment announc­ing it would break a child’s arm if a par­ent breaks the law. Sub­ject­ing any child to the trau­ma of sep­a­ra­tion from a par­ent may not leave a vis­i­ble injury, but the research is clear that such trau­ma risks injur­ing a child’s brain and affect­ing his or her long-term devel­op­ment. Know­ing­ly threat­en­ing to inflict this type of trau­ma on any child is uncon­scionable. Per­haps those who are plan­ning to enforce this pol­i­cy are unaware of the sci­ence. We urge them to con­sult with experts with­in their own agen­cies, as well as in the broad­er sci­en­tif­ic and child wel­fare com­mu­ni­ty. Know­ing what we know about the long-term impact on chil­dren’s lives, we must do every­thing we can to make sure our lead­ers under­stand why this is such a ter­ri­ble idea.

We spoke out last year when some of these actions were on the hori­zon, and it’s impor­tant for the Casey Foun­da­tion and oth­er indi­vid­u­als and orga­ni­za­tions that care about the well-being of chil­dren to speak out now against poli­cies and prac­tices that under­mine the future of chil­dren. Our words and actions define our val­ues as a nation, and we are at our great­est when we include all peo­ple in our com­mon destiny.

The Foun­da­tion remains focused on build­ing a brighter future for all chil­dren and pro­mot­ing racial and eth­nic equi­ty, and we con­tin­ue to sup­port orga­ni­za­tions engaged in pro­tect­ing immi­grant fam­i­lies from harm­ful pol­i­cy deci­sions. Our 2017 Race for Results report made three rec­om­men­da­tions to those ends: (1) Keep fam­i­lies togeth­er and in their com­mu­ni­ties to ensure sta­bil­i­ty; (2) help chil­dren in immi­grant fam­i­lies meet key devel­op­men­tal mile­stones by address­ing edu­ca­tion­al and oth­er needs; and (3) increase oppor­tu­ni­ty for immi­grant families.

We call on pol­i­cy­mak­ers at all lev­els of gov­ern­ment to end the cli­mate of fear that per­me­ates too many com­mu­ni­ties and help to cre­ate sta­bil­i­ty and oppor­tu­ni­ty for all chil­dren. It will mean so much for them, and it will speak vol­umes about who we are as a nation.

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