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- 06-04-2005, 08:20 PM #1
States, Cities Deal With Immigrants' Kids
States, Cities Deal With Immigrants' Kids
Saturday, June 04, 2005 8:08 p.m. ET
By DAVID CRARY AP National Writer
NEW YORK (AP) -- While Congress and the White House wrangle over federal policy on illegal immigrants, states and cities are wrestling with ways to accommodate their U.S.-born children _ most of them American citizens, all with full rights to public education.
The debate is often bitter and unpredictable as politicians argue whether to expand or cut health care for these families, whether to bolster immigrant-oriented school programs, and whether to offer in-state college tuition rates to children of illegal immigrants.
Some politicians and organizations contend that initiatives tailored to assist these children only lure more illegal immigrants to the United States. Others argue that most of these several million children will be lifelong Americans, and are more likely to be productive adults if they receive support now.
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"If you've got children already here, let's assume they're a future part of society and are worth the same investment as any other kids," said Randy Capps, lead author of a recent Urban Institute report on young immigrant children.
The report estimated that 22 percent of all American children under 6 have immigrant parents. More than 90 percent of these children were born in the United States and automatically are citizens, and nearly one-third _ 1.3 million _ live with at least one undocumented parent, the report said.
Those seeking tougher measures against undocumented people want Congress and the federal courts to reconsider two long-standing national policies _ a constitutional provision that bestows citizenship on any child born on U.S. soil and a 1982 Supreme Court ruling requiring public schools to accommodate any school-age child regardless of immigration status.
"That Supreme Court decision was probably the single most devastating decree that undermined immigration controls," said Dan Stein, president of the Federation for American Immigration Reform.
Some recent examples of how the immigration debate is playing
_Lawmakers in Washington state last month restored state-funded health coverage, severed in 2002, for thousands of children of illegal immigrants.
_School officials in Houston plan to open a school specifically for immigrants _ whether or not they are in the country legally. A new report by the Federation for American Immigration Reform, which seeks tougher enforcement of immigration laws, asserts that educating children of illegal immigrants costs Texas more than $4 billion annually.
_Bills that would allow undocumented students to qualify for low, in-state college tuition rates stalled in North Carolina and died in Connecticut and Arkansas. Nine states have enacted such measures, but Kansas' law is being challenged in federal court.
_Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano vetoed a bill that would have prohibited illegal immigrants from receiving child care assistance.
Last November, Arizona voters approved a measure requiring state employees to report illegal immigrants to federal authorities if they apply for certain benefits. Advocates for immigrants say the result is that many parents, fearing deportation, do not seek services such as health care or food stamps to which their U.S.-born children are entitled.
Many programs sprouting up across the country are designed to offset such parental fears. Chicago, for example, is establishing health centers at public schools to serve children whose undocumented families are too poor or too apprehensive to seek medical care for them.
At St. Cecilia's Church in New York's East Harlem neighborhood, Regina Kirk directs a Catholic Charities support program for Mexican and Ecuadorean mothers _ virtually all of them undocumented.
Fear of deportation "is always there _ it affects every aspect of their lives," Kirk said. Still, she said the mothers have taught each other ways to obtain food stamps and adequate health care for their children.
"Though many are wary because they're undocumented, once you start talking about their kids, they're willing to be assertive," Kirk said. "Despite all their problems and worries ... they feel they're giving their kids the best possible shot at the future."
One of the St. Cecilia mothers _ 33-year-old Maria Romano _ came to the United States illegally 17 years ago from Mexico's Guerrero state and now has three children, 15, 14 and 10. The eldest, Luis, has had serious health problems since birth and is enrolled in a special-education program at his public school.
"In Mexico, we couldn't have gotten care like this for Luis," Romano said. "His being alive today is because he was born in the United States."
She said undocumented parents like herself, with children who are U.S. citizens, "need to assert the rights they know their children deserve."
"Vigilance is the key," she said. "It requires perseverance to stay informed."
Mary Ellen Ros, executive director of Catholic Charities Community Services in New York, said her agency assists roughly 80,000 immigrants a year, many from families with at least one member in the United States illegally.
Though the families usually are tight-knit, young children often have to take the initiative because of their parents' fears or unfamiliarity with U.S. culture.
"These children have to contend with the school system or medical system without the benefit of a parent who can guide them the same way as an American-born parent," Ros said. "The child is very often breaking new ground on the parent's behalf."
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