When asked the general question about what kind of treatment children deserve, most people strongly agree that every child deserves a good home, loving parents or guardians, nutritional meals, regular doctor visits, safety, and a solid education. People will agree with the idea that every child deserves a chance to make something of him or herself and that without the basics mentioned above, children may not be able to thrive and develop to their potential. However, if people are asked what kind of treatment children who are illegal immigrants deserve, the answer is sometimes very different. Some people believe that children who are illegal immigrants should be barred from attending taxpayer-funded public schools, denying them a solid education. Some people believe that the children of illegal immigrants should not receive any state or federally funded assistance programs such as food stamps or health care; consequently, these children may suffer nutritionally, developmentally, and health wise. Illegal immigration is a topic of ferocious debate, with vocal critics warring over the most effective ways to deal with the issue. Unfortunately, children are caught in the crossfire of this war. Children must not remain victims of this political war; the nation needs to approach the idea of what to do about children who are illegal immigrants by supporting them with the more general view about children’s rights and best interests.
Unfortunately, according to scholar David Thronson, “immigration law fails to fully recognize children as individuals with independent rights and interests . . . [and] attaches punishing and lasting legal consequences to children for choices of adults in their lives” (393). The words “illegal immigrants” places a stigmatized label on people instead of recognizing them as people who have names, hopes, thoughts, and desires just like all other human beings in the world. This includes the children of illegal immigrants who may have travelled to the U.S. with their parents. In order to crack down on immigration problems, it is psychologically easier for policymakers and citizens to view the group of “illegal immigrants” as faceless, nameless, criminally-inclined, advantage-taking leeches instead of the unique individual human beings that they are. It is easier for U.S. citizens and policymakers to make tough, punishing rules even if many of those immigrants, especially children, had no choice about where they were to travel to or where they were to live, as long as those people retain the simple label of “illegal” instead of being admitted to being equally human. However, human rights for the most vulnerable populations, such as children who are illegal immigrants, must be steadfastly maintained.
Health is a very basic issue in the rights and welfare of children. Perreira and Ornelas discuss how low socioeconomic status of parents leads to poor health and future outcomes for their children, leading to a cycle of low socioeconomic status that is difficult to escape. Perreira and Ornelas write that “This cycle can be particularly pernicious for vulnerable and low-income minority populations, including many children of immigrants. And because of the rapid growth in the numbers of immigrant children, this cycle also has implications for the nation as a whole” (195). In spite of the great wealth of the nation, many Americans believe that the only people who deserve to benefit from state and federally funded support systems such as healthcare options for children and nutritional programs like WIC or food stamps are full U.S. citizens. Even though children who are illegal immigrants have no choice concerning their parents’ decision to enter America without proper visas or other documentation, the nation persists in punishing them and denying them basics even though they are helpless to change their situations. While it seems ideal that only U.S. citizens should receive the benefits that come from the pockets of U.S. taxpayers, the fact remains that many children of illegal immigrants living on U.S. soil are left to suffer detrimental and lifelong-affecting health issues because of some U.S. citizens’ refusal to recognize a child’s helplessness and rights as a human being. Even if an illegal immigrant family is to be deported to their home country, while their children reside on U.S. soil it is a basic human rights issue that those children should receive proper nutrition and medical attention. The fact remains that many of these children will grow up and remain on U.S. soil for the rest of their lives, and this is how their health and welfare impact the U.S. on a national level. If these children do not receive basic health care, the U.S. will create an ignored and unacknowledged underclass of people living within its borders; if people continue to see this group of people as advantage-takers, they are refusing to admit that the cheap labor they acquire means that Americans are the ones taking advantage of these unfortunate people.
The best way to promote human rights for illegal immigrant children is through education. Along with health care, education provides people a way to improve their skills and lives by knowing better ways to take care of themselves, their families, gain better paying jobs, and contribute to the nation skill wise and financially. Children should not be punished for the actions of their parents by being disallowed to attend school. Almost every U.S. citizen realizes that free public schooling is the foundation of having a healthy, productive work force that keeps the nation afloat globally. Though it is possible to gain a basic education later in life, childhood is a time when people’s minds are full of curiosity and are ripe for learning. It is easy to imagine the human rights violations that can occur if the children of illegal immigrants are not allowed to attend school. For example, these children may be required to work alongside their parents at dangerous tasks, menial labor, and punishing hours for lower-than-minimum-wage pay even though they are barely past the toddler age. One way schools may be forced to turn away these children is if federal, state, or local laws require birth certificates or evidence of parents’ citizenship before allowing them to attend. By failing to recognize these children as human beings by not allowing them to attend school and forcing parents to hide them, once again the development of a human rights violating underclass is being allowed by the nation.
Education beyond grade school is another opportunity that the nation should offer to the children of illegal immigrants. For instance, “Under Obama's plan, illegal immigrants under the age of thirty who were brought to the United States as children and have . . . qualifications, such as a high-school diploma and a clean police record, can apply for work permits and the right to live free from the fear of arrest.” (Coll 21). Legal initiatives such as The Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act, also known as the DREAM Act, offers a conditional lawful permanent resident status to undocumented high school graduates so that they can legally work, join the military, or go to college for up to six years (“The DREAM”). Considering that many of these illegal or undocumented immigrants spend their entire lives in the nation, it makes sense to allow their children to have a path to becoming better educated and productive members of society rather than forcing them to hide forever and be victimized by unscrupulous employers. While their parents may have understood that living as an illegal immigrant would be difficult and demeaning, children do not have the chance to decide where they come from or where they must live. Once they become adults, they could make the decision to return to their home nations or to stay on in the U.S., but they should have the education and experience to make a sound decision. If they return to their home nations with education, the chances of increasing the cycle of human rights violating illegal immigration decrease. If they choose to stay in the U.S., they will at least understand the path to citizenship and be able to gain the knowledge to attain it in order to become a productive and equal citizen.
However, in spite of the human rights issues at stake, many people are against any of the legal initiatives that would allow undocumented children to receive healthcare or education. Not all educators support the DREAM act because they worry that it could “open the door to fraud and abuse by allowing adults to claim they were brought here as children to access the new path to citizenship. Others expressed concern that the DREAM Act would increase illegal immigration by providing an incentive for parents to bring their children into the country” (Chitty 28). Even the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution, which makes anyone who is born within U.S. borders citizens, is under attack by lawmakers and their supporters who desire to take a tough stance on illegal immigration. As Edward Erler writes, “BIRTHRIGHT CITIZENSHIP . . . is a great magnet for illegal immigration” (Erler 10, emphasis his). Pejorative terms such as “anchor babies” are applied to children of illegal immigrants in support of the idea of changing the Fourteenth Amendment, because some citizens feel that these children are simply tools of their parents who want to become American citizens (Carrasquillo). This type of attitude implies that illegal immigrant parents see their children as mere tools rather than as people, which means that the rest of America can view them the same way. Unfortunately, it plays to a crowd who earnestly want to believe in the innate degeneracy of illegal immigrants; additionally, it disregards the fact that even if it were true that these parents think of their children as tools, these children need champions for their human rights even more than imagined.
It is easy to see that the children of illegal immigrants need protection and support so that their human rights are not violated. It is much more difficult to construct policies and legislation on national, state, and local levels that can be agreed upon by majorities in order to preserve those human rights. Whatever policies are made, children should not be made to suffer for their parents’ decisions and should at least gain the human rights of health care and education. They should not be dismissed with pejorative terms, left to remain faceless and nameless in a great nation of civil rights and forward thinking. If the U.S. wishes to remain a leader in the world, it must be a leader in all ways, including the human rights of children, which is the basic issue behind what must be done for the children of illegal immigrants.
Carrasquillo, Adrian. Paul Ryan: Beware of ‘Anchor Babies.’ MSNBC (2 May 2013). Web. <http://tv.msnbc.com/2013/05/02/paul-ryan-beware-of-anchor-babies/>
Chitty, Haley. "Debating the delayed DREAM Act: children of illegal immigrants and citizenship through higher education." University Business Nov.-Dec. 2010: 28+. Academic OneFile. Web. 12 June 2013.
Coll, Steve. "Nation of Immigrants." The New Yorker 2 July 2012: 21. Academic OneFile. Web. 12 June 2013.
Erler, Edward J. "Children of illegal immigrants are not U.S. citizens." USA Today [Magazine] Sept. 2009: 10+. Academic OneFile. Web. 12 June 2013.
Perreira, Krista M, and India J Ornelas. "The Physical And Psychological Well-Being Of Immigrant Children." The Future Of Children / Center For The Future Of Children, The David And Lucile Packard Foundation 21.1 (2011): 195-218. MEDLINE with Full Text. Web. 12 June 2013.
The DREAM Act. Immigration Policy Center. 18 May 2011. Web. <http://www.immigrationpolicy.org/just-facts/dream-act#do>
Thronson, David B. "Entering the mainstream: making children matter in immigration law." Fordham Urban Law Journal Nov. 2010: 393+. Academic OneFile. Web. 12 June 2013.