In the ever-raging debates over immigration, one group has not been discussed enough: children of undocumented parents. Even though these children are legal immigrants — or even natural-born citizens — they find themselves in an in-between situation where they cannot take care of themselves. The fear of being caught for needing the parent’s Social Security Number for benefits already puts the child in a financial crisis right away. Undocumented parents need to have protection so their fear does not cost their child access to education or cause any harm emotionally or financially.
The Fourteenth Amendment, passed in 1868, protects all persons born or naturalized in the United States. Children of immigrants, born in the US, did not have to deal with the same emotional instability that comes with the possibility of being kicked out of the country. Still, with or without papers, they remain likely to have less access to health care, nutrition, and early education programs, because their parents, as undocumented immigrants, can’t access those services. Since the election of president Trump, the number of people of food stamps and applications for free and reduced lunch has decreased. This means that many children go through hunger just so they do not risk the separation between their parents and themselves. Many parents have withdrawn their children from programs such as Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and Children’s Health Insurance Program, even though those children are citizens and meet the requirements.
Fear of a parent’s deportation can be devastating and constant. One study shows that 50 percent children of undocumented immigrants fear their parent or guardian being deported most of the time. Their fear is justified — children being separated from their families creates an impact on the child’s health and economical status, not to mention the emotional devestation. Especially if it happens suddenly, losing a deported parent can reduce about 73 percent of the household income leaving the family in poverty. Sudden absences of a legal guardians that occurs in a short period of time has often resulted with their child having long-term behavioral changes resulting in reports that children experience symptoms of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder.
Today the orders cracking down on undocumented immigrants being enforced by the Trump administration affect more than five million children in danger of being separated from their parent or guardian. President Obama provided some security for undocumented children through the Deffered Action of Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program in 2010. Now, undocumented parents of children who are citizens need their own DACA-style federal protection, not for themselves, but to allow them to properly care for their children.
Some might say this would encourage so-called “anchor babies,” a term made up by anti-immigration advocates as their imagined way undocumented immigrants would make themselves “safe.” In theory it only works in the long run and if it does it’s a drawn out process that has no guarantees. The thing is, it doesn’t work, and wouldn’t, even with new protections. It’s not reasonable to believe anyone would create a child solely for the purpose of staying in the US. Despite the conservative, anti-immigration rhetoric, it’s never been shown to be a real thing, and it would be relatively simple for any legislation to take this into account.
Family love the glue that keeps us together, but the fear of parents leaving their children in the hands of strangers or to face this world alone adds anxiety and fear into families. Children should not have to fear going into programs with the possibility that the result can be ICE abducting their parents and sending them back to their homeland. Undocumented parents who have not committed any crimes need some promise that their lives will be secure so their children can be, too.
This piece was produced by a student journalist in the Madison365 Academy. To learn more, and support our educational programs, visit madison365.org/academy.