Immigration reform affects many demographics of immigrants—farm workers, family members of citizens, skilled workers, and others—and though they have not been in the spotlight in the recent debate over immigration reform, children are no exception. If the immigration bill passes, then undocumented immigrants who were under 18 years of age when they crossed the border will be eligible for a briefer path to citizenship than their adult counterparts. While other immigrants would have to wait ten years after applying for citizenship to receive it, immigrants who entered the U.S. as children would be required to wait only five years.
Jose Antonio Vargas, an undocumented journalist and immigration activist, is generally in favor of the bill. Vargas, now 32, entered the United States as a child and would be eligible for a quicker path to citizenship under the new bill. Says Vargas, “[A]s someone who’s from the ‘elder DREAMer’ generation (those of us over age 30 who were educated here in the U.S. and consider America our home) — I am more than elated. In my travels around the country talking about immigration reform and asking people how do they define American, I’ve met numerous DREAMers in their 30s and 40s who tell me, ‘I am a DREAMer before there was a DREAM Act. I have a dream, too.”
The bill also contains provisions for protecting immigrants who are minors, for keeping families together, and for giving immigrants who are arrested or deported more clout as far as what happens with their children. About 5,000 children are currently in foster care in the United States because their parents have been deported or detained. In the majority of these cases, the only grounds for the parents and children being separated, sometimes permanently, is the parents’ undocumented status. Under the current bill, parental rights would be much more difficult to dismiss based on parents’ immigration status.
If the bill passes, federal restrictions would be lifted on offering immigrants who have graduated from high school in the United States in-state tuition at public universities. The decision regarding to whom to offer in-state tuition would fall to the states, many of whom would likely extend the benefit to undocumented graduates of high schools in their states.
One-fourth of the children in the United States are children of immigrants, one million of whom are undocumented. Over the past two years, the United States has deported over 200,000 immigrants who had American citizen children. This works out to an average of 250 parents deported per day.
Immigrants are not the only people who would benefit from reforming the way the immigration system handles the children of undocumented immigrants. According to Don Hernandez and Wendy Cervantes from the Foundation for Child Development and First Focus, “Children of immigrants account for nearly the entire growth in the U.S. child population between 1990 and 2008”—population growth that the United States needs in order to remain competitive economically.
Source: Huffington Post, “Immigration Bill Would Expand Dream Act To Dreamers Of All Ages,” Elise Foley,
June 17, 2013
Source: Public News Service, “High Stakes for Children in Immigration Reform,” Alison Burns,
May 21, 2013
Source: The Hill, “Making immigration reform work for children,” Bruce Lesley,
February 26, 2013