GOP Immigration Reform Principles Fall Short for Kids
Wendy Cervantes (Former Staff)Children of Immigrants
On January 30, 2014, the House GOP released their principles on immigration reform. The principles emphasize border security, tougher enforcement, reforms to the immigration system, and a pathway to citizenship for those who entered as children. While the principles are a step in the right direction for kids and families, they fail to reflect several other points in the principles for children in immigration reform that were endorsed by over 200 organizations last year. Below are some key areas where the House GOP principles miss the mark for children and can be improved:
- The principles highlight the need for a pathway to citizenship for youth, but neglect to address citizenship for the rest of the undocumented population. Children are fundamentally connected to their parents. While the principles mention a possibility of “legalization” for parents and other adults, the fact is that without full access to citizenship, the opportunities for families to fully integrate into society will be limited, creating a second-class status of individuals and families.
- The principles threaten to limit children’s access to the services and resources they need.Over 5 million children, the vast majority of whom are U.S. citizens, live in mixed status families and often face limited access to safety net programs designed to ensure children’s basic needs. Yet, the GOP principles explicitly state that individuals who are newly legalized “must be able to support themselves and their families (without access to public benefits).” Such a statement runs contrary to the children’s principles which argue that our immigration laws “must uphold children’s constitutional rights and ensure equal access to critical public services, programs, and economic supports for children and their families.”
- The principles fail to recognize the importance of keeping families together. The GOP principles mention the need to reform the legal immigration system, but prioritize employment-based immigration over family-based immigration, thereby dismissing the need to address the backlogs that have kept families separated for years and undermining family values. The GOP principles also focus heavily on enforcement, with no mention of the need for enforcement to be carried out in a humane manner that mitigates harm to children, keeps families together whenever possible, and ensures parents are able to make decisions regarding their child’s care.
- The principles neglect to mention the need to improve protections for unaccompanied immigrant children. Children who travel to the U.S. alone are a particularly vulnerable segment of the child migrant population; yet, our immigration laws continue to fall short of providing these youth with the protections and services they need. Immigration reform can help remedy this situation by ensuring that unaccompanied children have access to legal representation and child advocates as well as improved policies on screening, service provision, and safe repatriation.