Most would agree that children have little power in determining their current circumstances—they can’t choose what school they go to, what neighborhood they live in, or what family they are born into. That’s why we have policies and programs in place to ensure vulnerable children in low-income families have access to health coverage, nutrition supports, and other important services. In tough economic times, these safety net programs become even more critical towards ensuring their well-being.

Unfortunately, a new report by the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) attempts to undermine the importance of providing assistance to children in immigrant families, even those that are U.S.-born citizens. Perhaps what is most disturbing about the report is that it suggests that things like school-based feeding programs and healthcare for children are a waste of taxpayer money—rather than a critical investment. The fact remains that our nation’s future prosperity will be determined by the extent to which all our children are able to reach their full potential. And if children of immigrants, who now comprise a quarter of the U.S. child population, are denied the supports they need to grow and thrive, we all lose.

The report ostensibly sets out to measure the use of “welfare”, i.e. means-tested public benefit programs, by immigrant households with children. Yet, due to the methodology employed by CIS, much of the program participation captured is actually that of U.S. citizen children who qualify on their own for (and are the only ones in their family to receive) items such as medical or nutrition assistance, but who happen to live with at least one immigrant parent. Furthermore, the broad-brush use of the term “welfare” to categorize a variety of programs fails to reflect the fact that – given the high level of employment within these households – many of the programs referenced function as much-needed family work supports. For example, Medicaid and nutrition assistance are cited specifically as the two driving forces behind the study’s overall immigrant participation rate – yet rather than a sign of dependence, this fact more so reflects the basic needs of parents who work hard in low-wage positions that do not provide employer-sponsored health coverage or an adequate living wage for their families. These are challenges facing working poor families across the country, regardless of immigration status.

A recent report by First Focus confirms this fact by finding that both children in immigrant families and those in native-born families confront similar struggles, and that policies and programs designed to safeguard vulnerable, low-income children should continuously aim to be more inclusive—not the other way around. Additionally, the report highlights the important strengths that immigrant families possess, such as being more likely to be comprised of two-parent households and more likely to have a working parent. Furthermore, over one half of children of immigrants speak more than one language. There is no doubt that these are assets for our country as whole. Thus, rather than deem children in immigrant families as somehow undeserving of having their basic needs met and blaming them for our problems, we should be focused on a strategy for better integrating immigrant families. Even the CIS report points to the effectiveness of such a strategy, highlighting the success of the U.S. Refugee Resettlement Program, a program that provides services to support the integration of refugees.

Ultimately, in America we don’t believe in selecting only a few children who deserve to succeed. In order to improve child well-being in America, policies and programs must be designed to reach every single child. It’s not only makes economic sense—it’s the right thing to do.

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