When I hear leaders and policymakers discuss the importance of investing in our children—I often think of the many classrooms I’ve visited around the country. I think of the many faces of children and youth, of all ages and races, pledging allegiance to our flag, learning our nation’s history, and writing five-paragraph essays about what they want to be when they grow up.

I then wonder whether leaders and policymakers would ever walk into a classroom and choose between those students that deserve the opportunity to succeed and those that don’t. I assume that would be an unreasonable request, as most would argue that every child should have access to the resources they need to achieve their full potential. Yet all over the country, children in immigrant families (who now comprise nearly 1 in 4 of all children in the U.S.) are often the victims of harmful policies that do just that.

A recent New York Times article discusses the impact of our immigration and education policies on children growing up in Salinas, California, many of whom are children of migrant farmworkers. In just one third grade class, issues such as crowded housing, severe poverty, and limited English proficiency are very common. Yet, despite the need, the shortage of certified bilingual teachers remains a growing challenge—even in states like California. And harsh immigration proposals at the state and federal level—from banning undocumented children’s access to public schools to repealing birthright citizenship for children of unauthorized immigrants—are increasing fear and distrust in the immigrant community. Some immigrant parents are reluctant to send their children to school in states like Arizona. And in that same third grade class in Salinas, it’s not unusual for a student to confide in his or her teacher about a parent who has been recently deported.

Of course, these issues are not unique to one school in Salinas. Children in immigrant families can be found in classrooms all over the country. The vast majority are U.S.-born citizens, and yet they are not immune to the harmful impact of anti-immigrant policies. Furthermore, inadequate attention to their linguistic and cultural needs, both inside and outside the classroom, threatens to set them behind their peers in native-born families. As children in immigrants families represent the fastest growing segment of the child population, it is simply impossible to discuss improving child well-being in America without explicitly addressing the needs of this population.

A new paper by First Focus and the Foundation for Development finds that children in immigrant families and those in native-born families often face similar challenges, yet the same policies and programs aimed at safeguarding children in low-income families often simultaneously impose significant barriers to children in immigrant families. This is simply unacceptable. We cannot and should not pick and choose those children who deserve to prosper while excluding others. From early care and PreKindergarten programs to college retention programs and everything in between, absolutely every child in America should have access to the very best our country has to offer.

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