It can sometimes be tough to put a human face on many of the issues we work on here at the RAC. Sure, climate change is a pressing issue facing our planet. Yes, fighting school prayer is a crucial social justice topic with incredibly important implications. But who exactly is affected by our work? Which people, which families, are we fighting for when we lobby on Capitol Hill?
One population that often gets missed in the frenzied political discussions is children. In immigration reform specifically, we hear about the agricultural workers and the women and the adult married children and the LGBT spouses – all really significant demographics that we absolutely should be keeping in mind as we craft comprehensive legislation. But what about their children? Children of immigrants now comprise 25% of the U.S. child population. They make up a crucial sector of our future workforce, yet have little to no voice in the advocacy process.
In fact, children of immigrants often face some of the toughest obstacles. Between July 1, 2010 and September 31, 2012, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) issued a total of 204,810 removals for parents of U.S. citizen children. In 2011, at least 5,100 children were in foster care because of their parents’ detention or removal, and it is estimated that 15,000 more children will enter the child welfare system within five years if policies are not put in place to reverse this trend.
Yet immigration reform can’t only help children by protecting their parents – it must also address their needs more directly. It is essential that a comprehensive bill provides special accommodations for DREAMers – people who were brought to America as children, have grown up here, and have attended college or served in the military. It is essential that children remain eligible for legal status even if parents are denied, and that they are exempt from paying fees or penalties. It is essential that there are legal provisions for unaccompanied children or children who are in the foster care system. Luckily, the Senate immigration bill that’s been introduced in Congress already has these protections. But we must continue to let our Senators and representatives know what priorities are key for us as we continue the long legislative process.
The Jewish tradition teaches that if one destroys a life, it is as if one has destroyed a world, and if one saves a life, it is as if one has saved a world. These legislative issues – immigration reform, LGBT equality, women’s equality, economic justice – they’re not just issues. They’re not just faces. They’re not even just individual people. They are entire worlds, each of which is worth fighting for, protecting and saving in any and every way we can.