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MARIAN WRIGHT EDELMAN: We Need Immigration Reform — Now

Marian Wright Edelman | 11/20/2013, 3 p.m.
Marian Wright Edelman (Courtesy of childrensdefense.org)

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 50 courageous children the Center for Community Change 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.

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, and create reasonable and safe conditions for children.