Senate Immigration Bill an Important Step Forward for Children and Families
Washington — The bipartisan children’s advocacy organization First Focus today released an analysis of immigration reform legislation passed today by the United States Senate. The analysis finds that the bill offers significant gains for children and families, but a few priority issues remained unaddressed by the Senate.
“Children of immigrants account for one-fourth of children in America, so getting reform done means getting it right for kids,” said First Focus Campaign for Children President Bruce Lesley.
The First Focus analysis finds that the Senate bill offers important improvements in several specific areas, including:
- DREAM Act – DREAM Act provision would make a five-year citizenship path available without an upper age cap to qualifying immigrants who entered the United States as children, and would make student financial aid available to qualifying DREAMers,
- Family Reunification Waivers – Gives immigration officials the discretion to waive ineligibilty grounds for persons who were previously deported and meet specified requirements, creating opportunities for deported DREAM Act-eligible youth or parents of U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident children to reunify with family and apply for citizenship;
- Protections for Children and Families Affected by Immigration Enforcement – Includes an array of common-sense reforms to improve the likelihood that children and parents separated by immigration enforcement activities can reunite, ranging from ensuring that parents detained by immigration authorities can make phone calls to make arrangements for the care of their children to protections against premature termination of parental rights based solely on a parent’s detention or deportation;
- Children’s Interests in Immigration Proceedings – Grants immigration judges discretion to consider the consequences of a deportation or exclusion on children on the same terms as adults – under current law, judges must apply a more stringent test to hardship claims based on harm to children than to those involving harm to adults; and
- Unaccompanied Children – Ensures that immigrant children who enter the United States without their parents are represented by counsel, improves detention standards, and strengthens screening mechanisms and training for Customs and Border Patrol agents.
“From the strongest DREAM Act provision Congress has ever considered to common-sense reforms that give kids equal standing in immigration hearings, the Senate bill offers important gains for children,” said Lesley.
The analysis also concludes that important priorities for children were not addressed by the Senate, including:
- Bipartisan Little DREAMers Amendment – The bill requires young children to wait up to 13 years to qualify for citizenship, because the Senate did not consider an amendment sponsored by Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) that would give younger children access to the five-year DREAM Act citizenship path; and
- Access to the Safety Net – The bill maintains immigrant children’s eligibility for federal anti-poverty tax credits; however, it does not give children who are in registered provisional status access to the anti-hunger Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly Food Stamps) and the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and Supplemental Security Income anti-poverty initiatives.
“As the debate continues, Congress must ensure that kids get the health care, food, and basic resources they need to learn and thrive,” said Lesley.
The analysis also notes that the Senate bill significantly expands border enforcement, at a cost to taxpayers of more than $40 billion. The bill directs a massive military-styled deployment of personnel, aerial drones and other technology, and a 700-mile fence throughout the southern United States, affecting the communities that are home to millions of children.
“The $46 billion in border militarization expenses required by this bill would fund Head Start for more than five million children. Congress should be investing scarce federal dollars to help kids, not cutting early education and militarizing border communities,” said Lesley.
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The First Focus Campaign for Children is a 501(c)(4) nonprofit organization affiliated with First Focus, a bipartisan children’s advocacy organization. The Campaign for Children advocates directly for legislative change in Congress to ensure children and families are the priority in federal policy and budget decisions. For more information, visit www.ffcampaignforchildren.org.