Presidential Candidates: Stop Attacking Children and LatinosChildren of Immigrants Racial Equity
It’s been frustrating and disheartening this past week to listen to one presidential candidate after another insult my Latino community and attack immigrant children. It seems that candidates have forgotten that Latinos are an integral part of the electorate, and that we are the very same voters that they are referring to as “anchor babies.” As a Latina, I’m outraged that my community is not getting the respect it deserves by candidates. And as a child advocate, I’m disappointed that candidates are making the biggest headlines by attacking children rather than championing them.
Let’s start with the ridiculous birthright citizenship rampage from Donald Trump that started off the week. In addition to proposing to repeal birthright citizenship, which has been enshrined as part of the Constitution for over a century and is at the core of our nation’s civil rights history, he also wants to deport millions of U.S.-born children of immigrants already living here for decades. As First Focus highlighted in our new fact sheet and blog on birthright citizenship earlier this week, repealing birthright citizenship would create a bureaucratic nightmare for all American families, put the health and safety of children at risk and widen racial disparities, particularly among Latino children. Yet, GOP candidates couldn’t seem to jump on Trump’s bandwagon fast enough, with one after another quick to agree that the Fourteenth Amendment should be dismantled.
There was hope that Jeb Bush was on the right side of the birthright citizenship issue, and while he reiterated his support of the Fourteenth Amendment, he then went on to refer to children of undocumented immigrants as “anchor babies” and refused to apologize for it. Now that derogatory and racist term is being used by other candidates as well, insulting the Latino community every single time it is uttered. The power of language cannot be ignored here: referring to children as “anchor babies” implies that there is an ulterior motive and something “bad” about their very existence. By stigmatizing one group of children, it perpetuates racist and xenophobic sentiment at a time that the country is undergoing a major demographic shift. In a recent NBC news article, Ian Haney Lopez, an expert on racial rhetoric and politics in the U.S., states that the use of the term “tarnishes even the tiniest infant with the stain of being one of ‘them,’ the dark and dangerous who invade our society.”
I was glad to see Hillary Clinton and others come out strong on birthright citizenship, only to then be disheartened when Clinton failed once again to defend the unaccompanied children who have been fleeing violence and instability in Central America. Last summer Clinton stated that she believed that children needed to be deported whenever possible, and stated earlier this week that her position “remains the same.” The problem with that position is that it ignores the fact that a majority of the children and families are valid asylum seekers, with the government’s own statistics showing that more than 88 percent of children and families currently in U.S. family detention centers have a valid asylum claim. It also ignores the fact that the Administration’s current system of rushing children through “rocket-docket” hearings in order to speed up their cases actually puts children’s lives in danger. This fast-track system doesn’t allow children the time to build their cases, meaning they could be returned to very dangerous situations, even possible death. Furthermore, more than 70 percent of unaccompanied children continue to face their removal hearings without a lawyer, including children as young as three-years-old.
It’s simply beyond my comprehension that those that want to lead our country seem to think it’s possible to continue to alienate one of the fastest growing segments of the American electorate. I also don’t understand how candidates who claim to have the national interest at heart can continue to push for policies that would exacerbate racial disparities at a time when we need to ensure that our increasingly diverse child population—and future workforce—is set on a path to success. The attacks this past week have been anti-immigrant, anti-Latino, anti-children, and anti-American. And it’s time for it to stop.
Want to learn more? First Focus is a bipartisan advocacy organization dedicated to making children and families the priority in federal policy and budget decisions. Read more about the First Focus Center for the Children of Immigrants.