Children suffer, as immigration reform stalls

The 113th Congress will go down in history as one of the most unproductive ever. As the House of Representatives prepares to recess for the holidays without acting on immigration reform, it is important to remember that their delay is causing real suffering for real people.

Each day that detain-and-deport policies remain the law, more 400 children who are natural-born U.S. citizens have a parent deported. Since the Senate passed its version of the immigration reform bill and sent it to the House, more than 75,000 children have had one or both parents deported. While the House is in recess from December 13 to January 7, more than 10,000 children who are U.S. citizens will have a parent sent away, not knowing when – or if – they will ever be reunited.

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The children of undocumented immigrants have been visiting members of Congress to urge reform that prioritizes keeping families together. Their stories are heartbreaking, and remind us that our harsh immigration policies are taking both a physical and mental toll. These children and their families live with anxiety about the future, fearful that arrest, detention or deportation will tear their families apart.

Anxiety and fear are only part of the damaging impacts of their families’ precarious legal status. Children of the undocumented may also suffer from poverty, diminished access to food and health care, mental health and behavioral problems and limited educational opportunities.

In a recent health impact assessment, Human Impact Partners estimated that each day hundreds of these children will suffer from poorer health as a consequence of a family member's deportation. Their symptoms include behavioral problems, social withdrawal and indicators of post-traumatic stress disorder. More than 225 families each day will be at risk of poverty and significant numbers will go hungry.

These are our kids. Our country’s collective future. Failure to make sure they feel safe and secure hurts all of us.

This situation is the direct result of our nation's immigration policies. We created it and we have the ability to change it. The House – and President Obama – should heed the message on the sweatshirts of those who participated in the “Fast for Families” to call attention to immigration reform:

"Act. Fast."

Heller, co-director and co-founder of Human Impact Partners and chair of the Board of the Center for Community Change.