Immigration failures victimize children

Comprehensive immigration reform may be dead in the 112th Congress, but cynical tactics using the issue as a political weapon against the Obama administration, scapegoating immigrants at the state level or deploying a “toughness” litmus test among Republican presidential contenders are alive and thriving. As with the other domestic wars we are fighting — economic inequality, the cradle-to-prison pipeline, educational opportunity, etc. — children are being victimized by ideological warfare and the failure of adults to agree on a fair, sensible solution.
 
Some 5,100 American children in 22 states have been turned over to our already beleaguered foster care system as their parents were deported, according to a study released last week by the Applied Research Center. Sobering trends for children in the system who can’t be reunified with their parents show they are more likely to be homeless, and less likely to graduate from high school, let alone college. According to Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago, roughly 50 percent of kids in foster care won’t graduate from high school; of those who do finish, 94 percent do not finish college. A statistic we shouldn’t want for any child, it is estimated that at the current rate of deportation, the number of children in the system will increase to 15,000 in the next five years.
 
Due in part to concerns about the impact of splitting families, earlier this year the administration announced new guidelines prioritizing deportations to focus on illegal immigrants deemed to pose the most significant threats; entrusting local law enforcement and ICE to exercise their discretion — as police officers do every day when making decisions on handling misdemeanors to more severe crimes. Under the new guidelines, 300,000 pending cases are being reviewed along with efforts to identify DREAM Act-eligible youth, non-criminals and people with family ties to the United States.
 
The overall failure of Congress and the administration to pass comprehensive immigration reform is shameful. But, whether or not you agree with their approach, nearly 1 million people — a significant increase — have been deported under the Obama administration’s expansion of President Bush’s Secure Communities program.
 
You wouldn’t know it from the Teapublican rhetoric.
 
Just one day after the report was released, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) issued subpoenas for information obtained through the Secure Communities program on those 300,000 cases, steeped in blustery rhetoric complaining about the Obama administration's actions.
 
Smith and the six other Republican members of the Subcommittee on Immigration who approved the subpoenas ignored privacy concerns raised by the FBI and question the judgment of ICE agents and state and local law enforcement. (Ironically, these same GOP members have no concerns about the abilities of local law enforcement when it comes to implementation of extreme state immigration measures, like Arizona’s S.B. 1070 or Alabama’s new laws.)

Instead, they resorted to cynical political maneuvering and fear-baiting. And rather than use their authority to address the overall problem, they chose to ignore this latest evidence that the program is "working" — so well it’s increasing the number of children in foster care as their parents are deported in record numbers.
 
Dietrich Bonhoeffer observed, “The test of the morality of a society is what it does for its children.” Demonizing children as “anchor babies,” ignoring consequences that force kids into the foster care system, issuing subpoenas undermining our law enforcement and promoting televised debates where the people who seek to lead our country argue over who can build the biggest fence or deepest moat do not speak well to that test.