Young Children Suffering Consequences of Trump Administration’s Policies, Rhetoric on Immigration

March 1, 2018, Washington, DC—As the nation endures a torrent of anti-immigrant policies, actions, and rhetoric from the Trump Administration, young children in immigrant families—babies, toddlers, and preschoolers—are suffering immediate and potentially longer-term consequences. Those are the findings from two new reports issued today by the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP).

The reports are based on field work in six states—California, Georgia, Illinois, New Mexico, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania[i]—are the first-ever look at how the Trump Administration is wreaking havoc in the lives of young children under age 8. These children are crucial to the United States’ future: about one in four young children has at least one immigrant parent, and virtually all these children are U.S. citizens.

Through interviews with more than 100 child care and early education professionals who care for and teach babies, toddlers, and preschoolers, along with focus groups with dozens of parents, CLASP found pervasive effects on young children of the threats to their families and communities. The reports detail disturbing signs and behaviors of distress, as well as serious risks to young children’s healthy development. For instance:

  • Young children fear that their parents will be taken away. Children as young as 3 years old are expressing fears that their parents won’t be home at the end of their preschool day.
  • Their distress is evident in behaviors such as harming themselves, withdrawing from activities they used to enjoy, and regressing on developmental milestones.
  • Young children—who are citizens—are getting less access to nutrition, health care, and early care and education programs, because of families’ isolation and fears. Examples included a special-needs child being pulled out of recommended treatment, early childhood programs unable to fill their classrooms despite burgeoning need, and families declining nutrition assistance.
  • Fear is keeping families isolated in their homes and increasingly vulnerable to economic instability, housing turmoil, and exploitation.
  • Parents—the most important source of support for young children—are themselves under severe stress.
  • Early childhood educators, another crucial source of support for young children, are also overwhelmed.
  • The cumulative effect of these experiences is likely harming millions of young children.

Evidence from child development research affirms that stress, reduced access to health care and good food, economic insecurity, and housing instability all have long-term negative effects on the healthy development of young children. For example, prolonged exposure to fear, anxiety, and uncertainty—like that described by the parents and providers we interviewed—undermines children’s brain development, altering their memory, learning, and ability to manage their emotions.[ii]

“‘Our Children’s Fear: Immigration Policy’s Effects on Young Children is a wake-up call to community and business leaders, public officials, and everyone concerned with the nation’s future to pay attention to the devastation young children of immigrants face today and the potential long-term consequences,” said Hannah Matthews, CLASP’s director of child care and early education, as well as one of the reports’ authors. “Our youngest children are living in a state of perpetual fear. Instead of focusing on just being kids, they are dreading the loss of a parent—and their lives are rocked by instability and want. As a parent of young children, I cannot imagine how we can put any child through this; as an early childhood advocate, I know how damaging these policies are to our country’s future.”

In addition to documenting the damage, Our Children’s Fear includes recommendations for how our nation’s immigration policies can put the needs of children front and center. “We urge Congress and the Trump Administration to support the best interests of children in immigration policy decisions by consistently enforcing its ‘sensitive locations’ policy to restrict enforcement actions in such places as child care and preschools that are critical to children’s health and well-being and by ensuring parents can make decisions about their children’s care when detained or deported,” said Wendy Cervantes, senior policy analyst on immigration and immigrant families and report author. “We also recommend reversing course on the Trump Administration’s efforts to punish documented parents who place their children in Head Start or enroll them in health care or WIC nutrition services.” The companion report—Immigration Policy’s Harmful Impacts on Early Care and Education—includes recommendations to help professionals in the early care and education community support immigrant families dealing with the consequences of the Trump Administration’s rhetoric and actions.


[i] The names of specific communities visited are withheld to protect participants’ privacy.

[ii] National Scientific Council on the Developing Child, Persistent Fear and Anxiety Can Affect Young Children’s Learning and Development: Working Paper No. 9, 2010,

The Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP) is a national, nonpartisan, anti-poverty organization advancing policy solutions that work for low-income people. With nearly 50 years of trusted expertise, a deeply knowledgeable staff, and a commitment to practical yet visionary approaches to opportunity for all, CLASP lifts up the voices of poor and low-income children, families, and individuals, equips advocates with strategies that work, and helps public officials put good ideas into practice. The organization’s solutions directly address the barriers that individuals and families face because of race, ethnicity, and immigration status, in addition to low income. For more information, visit and follow @CLASP_DC.