The Wrong Path for Children: Anti-Immigrant Proposals at the Federal and State Levels

By Wendy Cervantes

June is Immigrant Heritage Month, a time when we celebrate our country’s rich immigration history, including the many contributions of immigrants and their children. A proud daughter of Mexican immigrants, I’ve dedicated my career to fighting for justice alongside my community and have previously shared my own family’s story to commemorate the significance of this month. Yet, this year has been exhausting and heartbreaking, and it has taken me more time to think about what I want to say. To continue to believe in a bright future for our country—which depends entirely on the ability of our increasingly diverse child population to succeed—can be difficult when millions of children and their families face a continued onslaught of threats ranging from increased xenophobia in their classrooms to budget and policy proposals that endanger their safety and wellbeing.

But then I met a nine-year-old boy named Juan, and I was reminded of how incredibly resilient our children are and how strength, faith, and love have helped our communities overcome trying times throughout our nation’s history. From the Trail of Tears to the dark days of slavery to restrictive and racist immigration laws, we as a country have ultimately grown stronger through every challenge. Juan was one of the children I met on a recent trip to North Carolina where my colleague and I were interviewing service providers to gain a better understanding of how recent anti-immigrant policies are affecting young children in immigrant families. Juan overheard his teacher talking about the two ladies from D.C. who were visiting his school to ask questions about immigration, and he not only offered to talk to us, but he also organized a group of friends to share their thoughts—and did so in less than 24 hours, complete with permission slips.

The attacks on immigrant children and families today are breathtaking, but they also mirror the trials from our past. At the federal level, Trump’s immigration and refugee orders as well as his 2018 budget request reflect the deeply flawed and hostile approach his administration is taking on immigration policy. And state legislation, like the recently passed SB4 in Texas, similarly undermine the civil rights of immigrants, their families and communities of color. These misguided proposals—which seek to divide our communities and foster hate while simultaneously disinvesting in programs aimed at ensuring all our children get ahead—clearly represent the wrong direction for our nation.

For example, President Trump’s 2018 budget would slash a wide range of critical programs that help support low-income children and families while redirecting resources to  his mass deportation plan. In other words, Trump’s budget would cut lifelines like basic nutrition assistance from millions of families—citizen and noncitizen alike—while using billions of taxpayers’ money to increase border and immigration enforcement that would tear apart millions of families. For example, he calls for nearly $1.6 billion for the construction of a wall on the southern border, nearly $200 million for additional immigration enforcement personnel, and $1.5 billion to massively expand immigrant detention. Combined with weakened protections for parents of minor children and aggressive policies that prioritize all undocumented immigrants for deportation, millions of children would continue to suffer the consequences.

In addition to the devastation from Trump’s increased enforcement measures, his administration also appears determined to undercut the economic security of all immigrant families, including those who are Lawful Permanent Residents and citizen children living in mixed-status families. For example, Trump’s 2018 budget includes a proposal to deny the Child Tax Credit (CTC) to hardworking, taxpaying immigrant parents who file their taxes using an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN). This proposal would directly harm over 5 million children, the vast majority of whom are U.S. citizens, by cutting their family’s household income—an average of only $21,000 per year—by more than 8 percent. And just last week, the President made comments that suggest his intent to take action on a draft executive order, which was leaked to the media earlier this year, that would rewrite laws regarding immigrants’ ability to access basic assistance—like nutrition and health care—and also unravel the family-based immigration system. Any proposal that would deny immigrant parents the ability to meet the basic needs of their children—who now make up one in four of all U.S. children—would put our nation’s future at risk.

Finally, at the state level, SB4 in Texas reinforces President’s Trump’s harsh enforcement efforts by requiring local law enforcement agencies to collaborate with immigration authorities and allowing police to question detained individuals about their immigration status. Similar to legislation passed in Arizona and Alabama, the Texas bill is expected to disproportionately impact communities of color. Advocates are concerned that the bill—set for implementation on September 1, 2017—will lead to an increase in racial profiling, mistrust of law enforcement, and a chilling effect that could inhibit families from carrying out basic activities, like going to the grocery or dropping their kids off at school. Research shows that hostile state immigration policies not only increase anxiety among children, but can also create additional concerns at school, such as increased incidences of bullying.

Thus, as I reflect on Immigrant Heritage Month at a time when my community is suffering so deeply, I return to little Juan. Even as he shared with me how scared he is “every moment of every day” that his parents may be deported—his eyes big and shiny with tears and voice trembling—all I could think about was his determination and courage. Because of his resilience and that of so many other young heroes like him, I am reminded that I have every reason to continue to believe in our country’s future.  

Visit the #IAmAnImmigrant Website to learn more about Immigrant History Month.