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Child Watch® Column: "We Need Immigration Reform Now!"

Release Date: November 8, 2013

Marian Wright Edelman

Nine-year-old Jaime Gordillo Villa was born in the United States and is a good student who has gotten awards for both good grades and behavior. He wants to be a lawyer when he grows up to help immigrants and others who need help. He says he doesn’t want people to suffer for things they didn’t do. His family knows about suffering since coming to the United States to start a new life. Jaime adored his big brother. They studied and played soccer and video games together. But when his brother was detained by immigration officials his family had to spend so much money on lawyers to try to keep him here that they lost their home. And then his brother was deported anyway. Jaime’s afraid his mother or father might be next if they are caught by the police and he might lose them too. He is one of fifty courageous children the Fair Immigration Reform Movement has coming to Washington, D.C. on November 14 to share their stories with members of Congress and urge them to pass immigration reform with a pathway to citizenship this year.

As the debate on immigration reform continues in Congress, millions of children have so much at stake. One in four children in the United States currently lives in an immigrant family, representing about 18.4 million children. Children of immigrants represent the fastest growing segment of the child population. Immigrant populations are diverse, but many children in immigrant families face significant challenges to their health and well-being, including poverty, lack of health insurance, low educational attainment, substandard housing, and language barriers. Any long term solution to our immigration system must take into account what is best for these children. 

A recent report from Human Impact Partners (HIP), Family Unity, Family Health, highlights the need to protect children’s rights and keep families together during immigration reform to ensure children’s health. Family-focused immigration reform would result in better child health. Our current immigration policies push families apart and children into illness and poverty. HIP projects that if current policies remain unchanged, 43,000 U.S. citizen children will experience a decline in health status, 100,000 will develop signs of withdrawal, and over 125,000 will go hungry in the next year. Children of undocumented immigrants—the majority of whom are U.S. citizens—will continue to suffer from trauma and fear of deportation which can lead to costly health consequences in their adult lives.

The Children’s Defense Fund has joined with many child and family advocates supporting a set of key principles for children we hope Congress and the Administration will incorporate in immigration reform without more delay. Limbo is a very bad place for children to live.

First, we believe there must be a direct, clear, and reasonable pathway to citizenship. Any pathway to citizenship must be open, affordable, safe, and accessible to children in need of status, including beneficiaries of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), undocumented children under the age of 21, and unaccompanied immigrant children.

Second, our immigration system must uphold children’s basic human rights and ensure access to critical public services, programs, and economic supports for children and their families. Protecting a child’s human rights should include ensuring children receive legal representation before all immigration authorities and, for all unaccompanied children, the appointment of an independent child advocate from the moment of detention throughout the course of any immigration or other related court proceedings.

Third, we need to ensure enforcement efforts have appropriate protections for children. In all enforcement actions, including those along the border, the best interests of the child should be a primary consideration and children must be given the benefit of the doubt during any investigation or detention. There should be appropriate and accountable training policies for interacting with and screening children that reflect a humanitarian and protection-oriented approach, prohibit the use of force with children, and create reasonable and safe conditions for children.

Finally, we must keep families together. All policies regarding admissibility, enforcement, detention, and deportation of children and their parents must consider the best interests of children, including enabling immigration judges to exercise discretion in admission and removal decisions based on the hardship to U.S. citizen and lawful permanent resident children. The immigration system must be updated by resolving current backlogs and ensuring family-based immigration channels are adequate for future migration without lengthy family separation.

As the youngest and most vulnerable members of our society, every child within our borders should have access to the services and resources they need to survive, grow, and thrive. As our nation’s leaders, hopefully, move forward with the important task of reforming federal immigration laws, I hope they will take into account the unique needs of children. Please urge your member in the House of Representatives to take action on immigration reform that promotes child well-being by ensuring families stay together and gives all children the opportunity to grow and thrive. The Senate has acted. The House must vote—now.

Marian Wright Edelman is President of the Children's Defense Fund whose Leave No Child Behind® mission is to ensure every child a Healthy Start, a Head Start, a Fair Start, a Safe Start and a Moral Start in life and successful passage to adulthood with the help of caring families and communities. For more information go to

Mrs. Edelman's Child Watch Column also appears each week on The Huffington Post.

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Here's what others have said:

Submitted by ittakesavillage at: November 19, 2013
Immigration reform has bipartisan support except for Senator Harry Reid insisting on citizenship. He is stubbornly blocking compromise and is why families are broken apart.

Submitted by LTH at: November 14, 2013
I would love to see how our goverment will reform our immigration system. First on the list should be the illegal immigrats deported, and channels setup for all illegal immigrations to immigrate the legal way. Did we forget illegal means laws were broken. Will other programs be reform for all others who broke laws under other forms????

Submitted by Anonymous at: November 11, 2013
No other nation in the world permits children on illegal immigrants to become citizens. We should not either. They are here criminally and need to be deported to get in line behind every one else who did not cheat to get here.

Submitted by Runningmere at: November 10, 2013
Immigration reform will benefit us all.

Submitted by every thing going to be alright at: November 10, 2013
Thank you mrs edelman for your courage and committment to the children of this world. Each day our children all over this world are force from their parents or families in the name of monetary gain. The right's of parents is not an option any more,I do know that our creator hears all and see all and that is what makes me to continue to have hope.

Submitted by peanut at: November 9, 2013
President Obama should use an executive order to stop the deportations which have soared under his watch.

Submitted by momo001 at: November 9, 2013
Anyone who came here illegally already broke the law and should be tried and if convictd deported. This is a land of laws and these illegals are laughing in our faces. They are recieving benefits without even paying into the system. Healthcare, wealfare, free education, public housing, food stamps, etc. enough is enough. God save this republic.

Submitted by Anonymous at: November 9, 2013
This is very informative and keeps the issue before us.

Submitted by Carla at: November 9, 2013
Absolutely, we desperately need immigration reform. These hard working people come to America following a dream for a better life for themselves and their families. How quickly we forget the "American Dream," and what it means for others. Their children are very bright, and eager to learn.

Submitted by Anonymous at: November 9, 2013
I agree that if we are to have comprehensive reform we must care about our children and their well being. The solution is not tearing families apart.

Submitted by jojo at: November 9, 2013
if the parents don't ILLEGALLY sneak over the border in the first place they wouldn't risk compromising their families

Submitted by Anonymous at: November 8, 2013
I wish something is done about that the Immigration Reform my fiance`has been away from myself and our kids since 2010 it's been very very hard and we miss him everyday we talk to him on the phone but that's it so hopefully by the grace of God we will be able to see him for Christmas that will be a lovely gift not only for the kids but for him as well. I feel as if as long as they are good people and provide for their family they should be able to stay in the US why break up a happy home.

Submitted by Ladycb at: November 8, 2013
If the family came into this country illegally, they must be deported. Many people want to come to this country and are on wait list. If I break the law, I must face the consequences. These individuals demand not request benefits. Many receive benefits, like food stamps and Medicaid. I am collecting SS Disability and I can not get these benefits. I have worked for decades and contributed to the system and still pay for my medicare. Many Americans need jobs. I feel for these people wanting a better life, however they must fight for their rights in their country, we had to fight for our independence over 200 years ago. Have they been paying taxes? Do they want to learn English. It is apparent as too many companies have Spanish prompts on too many services. Many immigrants came in to our country legally and worked with out getting any benefits whatsoever. The children if born here, should be allowed to stay with American Citizens-maybe you could raise a few of them. Millions of Americans are in need of help first. We need jobs, education and "The American Dream" Will you fight tooth and nail for the millions of Social Security recipients who are living near the poverty level, too many are raising children, or grandchildren on limited funds. TAKE CARE OF AMERICANS FIRST. How many children whose parents are in jail need help?

Submitted by Dee at: November 8, 2013
We must protect our children as they are our future.

Submitted by David at: November 8, 2013
Marian, I have been a contributor for some time. As I’ve said before, these long emails, however well-written & heartfelt will not be read by most folks who open them. They’re too long and involved. I strongly recommend they be shortened to the major points, so more potential adherents will read them. Speak to any executive and they’ll tell you that when they see a message this long, they just delete it. People value their time and most will not spend the time it takes to read this especially those with a large inbasket.

Submitted by Eric at: November 8, 2013