Immigrants are a part of our families, workplaces, and houses of worship. They are friends and neighbors woven into the fabric of our communities. Critically, they are parents tucking children into bed each night. More than 1 in 4 (26 percent), or approximately 18 million, U.S. children lived with at least one immigrant parent in 2018. For America to flourish and prosper, we must commit to policies that promote all children’s well-being and center children of immigrants in these policies.
In direct opposition to children’s well-being, the Trump administration’s four-year legacy of dangerous, reckless policy choices has created a climate of confusion, fear, and impossible choices. The administration continuously attacked family unity, a foundational principle of child welfare protected by the U.S. Constitution.
- Family separation is dangerous to children’s health, development, and well-being. Yet during the enforcement of the administration’s Zero Tolerance policy between April and June 2018, the government took 4,500 children from their parents. Although a court order forced the administration to end the policy in June 2018, 1,100 more children were taken from their parents between June 2018 and November 2019. As of October 2020, the parents of 545 children taken from their families cannot be found.
- Family separation is still happening. Today, there are fresh threats of separations due to the Remain in Mexico program, which has trapped nearly 60,000 people in terrible conditions at the U.S. border as they are forced to wait for their immigration proceedings in Mexico. Parents are faced with the impossible choice between an indefinite wait in dangerous tent camps and sending their children alone across the border.
- Parents detained together with their children in the U.S. have also faced family separation. In May 2020, families told their lawyers that ICE officers asked them to make the unconscionable choice of either separating from their children or staying in indefinite detention during a global pandemic.
Family separation as well as the battle over the border wall and who will pay for it have been highly visible horrors, but the Trump administration’s less visible shifts in regulatory and executive action also erected barriers to critical, life-saving benefits and services, affecting the lives of millions in the U.S. What does that “invisible wall” look like?
A hungry child.
- Fear and confusion—known as the chilling effect—over intentionally complex Trump administration “public charge” regulations are causing families to disenroll or forgo health care, nutrition, public service, and other economic support programs. For example, between 2016-2019, Texas experienced a precipitous drop in enrollment in benefit programs, including a 13.5 percent drop in SNAP enrollment between December 2017 and April 2019. A qualitative study of 32 geographically diverse organizations in Texas by CDF-Texas found that anti-immigrant policies such as public charge caused many mixed-status families to fear enrolling even their citizen children.
- A nationally representative survey found that 11.4 percent of adults in immigrant families with children reported they or a family member avoided a nutrition program (SNAP or WIC) in 2019.
A child without access to health care.
- More than 1 in 4 immigrant children did not have health coverage in 2019 (25.5 percent compared to 5.1 percent of native-born citizen children).
- As of January 2020, 35 states and the District of Columbia provided health coverage to lawfully residing immigrant children without a five-year wait, and as of July 2019, six states and the District of Columbia use state-only funds to provide Medicaid coverage to income-eligible children regardless of immigration status.
A scared child.
- Children’s feelings of personal safety are linked to the perceived safety of those who care for them. Chronic uncertainty and distress about the threat of enforcement activity destroy children’s sense of safety and their mental health. The Trump administration’s aggressive enforcement choices, including continuous threats to DACA, heightened fears of deportation.
- More than 250,000 children in the U.S. have at least one parent who is a DACA recipient.
- An estimated 6.9 million children lived with undocumented parents.
Beyond tearing down the harmful policies that separate families and chill access to critical services, we must lean forward and build a permanent solution to this nation’s immigration crisis so that every child has the opportunity to grow up in a safe, stable, and loving family and community.