COVID-19 — include immigrant families and children in relief effort

COVID-19 — include immigrant families and children in relief effort
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This spring, Congress denied the tax-paying families of an estimated 3.5 million children economic help under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act. That’s right: families who have contributed billions in taxes, families with U.S. citizen children, were cut off from bare-bones financial assistance simply because one or both parents has an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN). 

As many in our nation are grappling with the mistakes of the past, and trying to build a future free of systemic barriers for people of color, we need Congress to do its part. This means the Senate must pass COVID-19 relief legislation along the lines of the HEROES Act, and treat mixed-status immigrant families like any other American family. That would be a clear sign of progress.  

Every child deserves to grow up in a safe and stable home, with loving caregivers and access to a high-quality education, nutritious food and health care. Without that, research shows, poverty and toxic stress have long-term health and emotional impacts on children’s development. Years later, people who experienced hunger, ill health, instability and stress when they were young are at greater risk for chronic illness, along with work and educational setbacks. 

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Yet when it comes to children in mixed-status immigrant families, some political leaders in this country do not seem to care. They punish children for their parents’ immigration status. And by doing so, they punish everyone, because these children are our future.

The Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP), with Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy (MIRA) Coalition, Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy, and South Carolina Appleseed Legal Justice Center, documented the consistent harm that children of immigrants — one in five American children — have already been dealing with due to the Trump administration’s policies. The current threat of family separation and fear of accessing publicly funded health, nutrition and education services has damaged children’s emotional and physical health. This distress is being exacerbated by the pandemic and children’s exclusion from COVID-19 relief.

This is why Justice for Migrant Women, led by Mónica Ramírez, CLASP, led by Olivia Golden, and other partners created the Children Thrive Action Network (CTAN). CTAN’s mission is to defend and support the millions of children in the United States who live in mixed-status immigrant families. Our goal is to build a stronger society where all children have equal opportunities, including the resources and protections they need to grow and thrive; where diversity is embraced and celebrated; and where all children are valued and cared for regardless of where they or their parents were born.

It’s no secret this country has a long history of anti-immigrant, exclusionary policies, as UnidosUS points out in a report on the coronavirus crisis and its impact on Latinos. Yet these policies are not only wrong, but devastating to us all. Harming millions of children, as the CARES Act restrictions do, creates a weaker nation in the future. 

At this time of national crisis, we also have to point out that immigrants, including many living in mixed-status homes, are taking on unprecedented stresses. They fill essential roles in health and personal care and the food supply chain, often without the basic safety net that so many of us need. Immigrants are at heightened risk of contracting the virus because of their public-facing, care-giving and production roles. If they have to take time off from work, they may go without pay. At home, again, their children are in need.  

Many of these children are U.S. citizens. They have already experienced trauma and harm due to public policies that leave out their families. We cannot let an entire generation come of age with fear, anxiety, and instability as their primary childhood memory.

Mónica Ramírez is the president of Justice for Migrant Women and Olivia Golden is executive director of The Center for Law and Social Policy. They are part of the Children Thrive Action Network, along with UnidosUS, Children’s Defense Fund-TX, HANA Center, MomsRising, National Association of Social Workers, National Education Association, The Children’s Partnership and others.