The consequences are devastating. Recently, over the course of about two years, the federal government deported more than 200,000 parents of U.S. citizen children – that’s 250 parents every day. Each deportation means children’s lives are overturned, as they are forced to either move to a land they’ve never known or face the trauma of losing a parent.
An estimated 5,000 children are currently living in our states’ overworked, under-resourced foster care systems due to their parent’s detention or deportation. In many cases, their parents were not abusive or neglectful. These children have been separated from their parents – sometimes permanently – simply because their parents did not go through normal legal channels when they brought their children to the land of freedom, opportunity, and justice.
Some policymakers have acknowledged the high stakes for children in immigration reform, responding with a call for passage of the DREAM Act or similar legislation. DREAM, which provides a roadmap to citizenship for some young people brought without authorization to the United States as children, is an important part of any immigration reform solution that works for children. And we welcome the upcoming introduction of a bipartisan DREAM Act in the House of Representatives. But while DREAM is a necessary element, it is by no means sufficient to ensure that reform works for all kids.
What America needs is immigration reform that addresses the full range of problems kids face. In partnership with more than 200 national, state, and local organizations, we and the Women’s Refugee Commission recently released a set of principles for immigration reform that meets children’s needs. These partners, representing faith traditions, advocates for civil rights, immigrant families, and children, all agree that Congress must:
    1.    Provide a roadmap to citizenship that is direct, clear, affordable, and reasonable;
    2.    Protect  children’s basic rights, including access to public services for children and families;
    3.    Reform enforcement to protect children’s safety and well-being, including protections for the thousands of immigrant children who enter the U.S. each year not accompanied by an adult; and,
    4.    Commit to keeping families together, by modernizing the family-based immigration system, prioritizing children’s interests in immigration law, and adopting family-friendly enforcement policies.
We understand that such things are easier said than done. Like the principles released by President Obama and a bipartisan group in the U.S. Senate, moving from broad concepts to specific legislative language will be difficult. But we are committed to working with any policymaker – Democrat or Republican – who is serious about building an immigration system that meets children’s needs.
Reform is an urgent priority for kids, because every day we delay means more denials, more deportations, more foster care placements, and more families torn apart. But whether children’s lives are better or worse depends on whether lawmakers make kids a priority or continue to devalue their interests.
We urge members of Congress to confront the tragedies children experience every day under current law, and commit to delivering a better immigration law that reflects our nation’s family values and advances our national interest in the success of every child. Because, in the long run, getting immigration reform done means getting it right for kids.
Lesley is president of First Focus.