A new report by the Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights lays out what advocates have long known: We need our immigration system to treat immigrant children as children.

The report diagnoses our current immigration system as failing children:

“Children are on the defensive. They bear the burden of responding to and defending against the government’s effort to remove them from the country and they bear the burden of proof to win protection. In short, it’s the worst of both worlds. In many cases, their ability to access protection depends on whether or not they are accompanied by a parent or legal guardian, with modest, child-specific protections available to children that are unaccompanied or separated from a parent. Unlike many other systems, decisionmakers are not required—or in some instances even permitted—to consider their best interests when making decisions that directly impact a children’s safety, permanency, and connection to family.”

The past few years have illuminated that we need a new way. Multiple government agencies designed policies that separated families, created a refugee camp at our southern border, and turned asylum-seeking children and families away under the pretext of the COVID-19 pandemic. These policies amount to torture and child abuse. And when a system allows the intentional infliction of trauma on children, it must be rebuilt.

As the report correctly states, we cannot settle for what we have done in the past.

“. . .Change is incremental at best, and within immigration reform debates, protections for children continue to be inserted piecemeal into a system designed for adults.”

Instead, the Young Center has given us a roadmap to a system built on the central principles of child rights— best interests, non-discrimination, the right to survival and development, and a child’s right to be heard. The question now must be not if, but when, policymakers, and advocates will follow the path.