Our Children’s Fear: Immigration Policy’s Effects on Young Children
By Nickolas Bagley
Author(s): The Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP)
- Wendy Cervantes
- Rebecca Ullrich
- Hannah Matthews
Published: Mar. 1, 2018
This report was published along with a companion report:
Immigration Policy’s Harmful Impacts on Early Care and Education
“This report documents how the current immigration context is affecting our nation’s youngest children, under age eight, based on interviews and focus groups in 2017 with more than 150 early childhood educators and parents in six states—California, Georgia, Illinois, New Mexico, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania. We conducted this first multi-state study of its kind to focus on young children for two reasons.
First, the early years lay the foundation for children’s long-term health and wellbeing. For children to learn and grow and ultimately succeed in school and in life, they need good nutrition, regular health care, a stable and healthy living environment, and nurturing and loving care. When their basic needs are not met—or when hardship and distress occur in children’s environments—their growth and development is undercut and can have enduring, even life-long consequences.
Second, immigrants are central to our nation’s past and future. Children of immigrants—those with at least one foreign-born parent—comprise a quarter of all young children, and the overwhelming majority of them are U.S. citizens. Our collective future is tied to their health and wellbeing, as well as their success in school and later careers.
Our study was motivated by widespread reports that children and families are being harmed by the Trump Administration’s immigration policy priorities. This report documents impacts on young children of immigrants, whether their parents have some form of lawful immigration status or are undocumented.
Documenting the Impact: Key Findings
- Young children fear their parents will be taken away.
- Young children’s daily routines are interrupted because fear is keeping families isolated in their homes—resulting in reduced access to early care and education programs.
- Parent and provider accounts suggest that young children are getting less access to nutrition and health care services because of families’ fears.
- Young children’s housing and economic stability are in turmoil, with likely significant consequences for their wellbeing.
- Parents and caregivers—the most important source of support for young children—are themselves under severe stress and lack resources to meet their needs.
A Better Path Forward: Recommendations
Congress and the Trump Administration should ensure that the best interests of children, including U.S. citizen children living in mixed-status families, are held paramount in immigration policy decisions.
- Congress should pass legislation that provides a pathway to citizenship to undocumented immigrants, including parents and Dreamers.
- Congress should ensure immigration judges are able to weigh the hardship to children in decisions regarding a parent’s ability to enter or remain in the country.
- The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) should use discretion when making decisions to arrest, detain, and deport parents of minor children in the United States.
- Congress and DHS should expand and consistently enforce the sensitive locations policy to restrict enforcement actions at or near places that are critical to children’s health and wellbeing.
- DHS should strengthen protocols to minimize potential harm to children when they are present during immigration enforcement actions and train all staff on these protocols.
- DHS should ensure that detained and deported parents are able to make decisions about their children’s care.
Federal, state, and local policymakers should ensure that immigrant families have access to the programs and services they need to promote their children’s healthy development.
- Congress and federal agencies should reverse course on the Trump Administration’s efforts to discourage immigrant families and their children from accessing health, nutrition, and early childhood education services.
- State and local policymakers should safeguard the wellbeing of young children in immigrant families in state and local legislation, laws, and policies.
- State and local policymakers should increase funding for legal services in communities and build links to pro bono services.
- State agencies administering public benefits should ensure immigrant families and their children are not deterred from enrolling in critical programs.
- State agencies administering public benefits should issue guidance to programs on protecting data and personal confidentiality.
State policymakers should ensure early childhood programs have the resources they need to better serve children in immigrant families.
- State policymakers should promote and fund coordination and collaboration between child care and early education and immigrant-serving organizations, so families and providers have better access to key immigration information.
- State policymakers should provide resources to meet the unprecedented needs of the early childhood workforce for training, education, and support.
- State policymakers should ensure that programs have access to best practices and training on trauma-informed care, as well as the funding to implement those practices.
The philanthropic community should protect, defend, and elevate the wellbeing of children in immigrant families.
- Funders should invest in immediate and urgent support to children in immigrant families and the programs that serve them through a comprehensive agenda that includes policy advocacy; strong collaborations across the immigrant and early childhood sectors; creation and dissemination of training and resources for early care and education and other program staff; and a research agenda that includes documentation of the impacts of immigration policies on young children.
- Funders should speak out about the wellbeing of young children of immigrants, their needs and the developmental consequences of the current crisis.”