It’s a wrap on 2019—and on the latest federal budget cycle, too. While we policy nerds are doing our due diligence combing through appropriations and considering outcomes for children, the spirit of reflection that accompanies the year’s end also compels us to think about the policy moves and shakes that aren’t as easily captured in a spreadsheet table.
For example, while the battle over Trump’s border wall and who will pay for it has been well publicized, his far more effective administrative barriers to immigration haven’t conjured the same kind of vivid imagery. A wall fortified by an alligator moat? Fantastical, to be sure, but relatively easy to picture. An invisible wall fortified by red tape? What does that even mean?
As this Huffington Post piece so aptly puts it, “A small, dedicated crew of hardliners has put up bureaucratic barriers that are far harder to overcome than any hunk of concrete on the border.”
So although the mammoth physical wall envisioned by Trump hasn’t gone up the way he imagined, and although no new laws have actually been passed, the unseen shifts in administrative choices have erected an invisible wall against any immigration, legal or otherwise.
And it turns out that an invisible wall looks like:
A hungry child. Fear and confusion—known as the chilling effect—over intentionally complex Trump administration “public charge” regulations are causing families to disenroll or forgo health care, nutrition, public service and other economic support programs for which they are eligible. The DHS public charge rule has been blocked, but service providers report that many families continue to avoid any benefits in order to keep a low profile and avoid a perceived threat of deportation.
A sick child. When U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services quietly eliminated non-military “deferred action,” families with sick children were suddenly forced to choose between life-saving medical treatment or the risk of deportation. Although the agency responded to public outcry and decided to resume its consideration of medical deferred action requests, some families affected by the egregious policy shift are still awaiting communication from USCIS.
A scared child. Children in immigrant families are living in a pervasive climate of fear due to this administration’s poisonous immigration-related rhetoric and shifts in policy and enforcement practices. Children’s feelings of personal safety are linked to the perceived safety of those who care for them. Chronic uncertainty and distress about the threat of enforcement activity is destroying children’s sense of safety and their mental health.
Trump’s invisible wall is no shining feat of steel and concrete, but for our children feeling its reality now, its bricks of cruelty are just as immoveable.