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U.S. Citizen Children: Helpless in Face of Parents’ Deportation

The immigration debate has never been one of “my issues.” There is only time to keep up with so much. But a story on CNN today refocused my consciousness (and my conscience) on one particular facet of the debate: the inhumanity, moral blindness and questionable constitutionality of deporting the parents of helpless U.S. citizen children. I also learned about the efforts of the Organization to Help Citizen Children to intervene in the trauma inflicted upon these children. The plight of our fellow citizens is an matter of national honor well worth talking about, and can and should be remedied post haste.

A child born on United States soil is automatically a United States citizen per our Constitution’s 14th Amendment:

Section 1. All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

And don’t just note the bolded portion. The clauses on the privileges and immunities of citizens, the right to life, liberty and property (echoing the Declaration’s “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”), to due process and equal protection of the laws, are among the most relevant and oft-cited provisions in modern constitutional jurisprudence.  

According to the CNN piece, about 3 million children who are United States citizens have at least one parent who is an “illegal immigrant.” As our immigration laws are currently enforced, the parent or parents of child citizens can be deported (sent back to their country of origin – often Mexico) — leaving the child in the nightmare scenario of being ripped from their beloved protectors and providers or following them to a country where they don’t even speak the language of their new schoolmates.

Seems to me, the wrongness of this outcome cannot be overstated — and reversing this torturous, dark corner of our immigration policy is something that the vast majority of Americans could agree on regardless of one’s position on illegal immigration generally. Regardless of any other considerations, the child’s U.S. citizenship should prevail if the parent has not committed a felony, and the child should not face de facto deportation — a fate in no way compatible with the fact of citizenship.

I am not suggesting that children should be completely immunized from the acts of their parents in general. I recognize that every day innocent citizen children suffer when their felon parents (also U.S. citizens) are incarcerated. But seeking a better life in the United States is not the moral equivalent of a criminal offense, is it? While it may or may not make sense to deport individuals who are detained after having immigrated illegally (that is the overarching debate), once the privileges and immunities of a U.S. citizen become involved by virtue of a child’s presence, I feel morally and constitutionally justified in saying that “the statute of limitations” has expired on our government’s (legal and moral) justification to deport the child’s parents.

If the above result increased the motivation of illegal immigrants to have children on U.S. soil, or even to cross the border when pregnant, then so be it. It is a small price to pay for the assurance that citizen children will be protected and not treated as second class citizens. As a policy matter, immigrants with children will be even more likely to be productive workers and stay clear of trouble, right? Motivated to provide for their child, surely the answer is yes. Without looking, it seems obvious that court cases have already gone against citizen children trying to shield their parents from deportation, and I may delve into this in a future post. But regardless, how can it be compatible with our national principles and ideals for our Constitution, through some technicality, to permit this? We can and must do better.

Who can possibly be against the protection of citizen children in this situation? As I think of every possible political persuasion from left to right on the spectrum, I cannot think of one group who could oppose the protection of citizen children without rendering themselves hypocrites vis-à-vis their other positions. Thinking of my own children, I can only imagine how unbearable facing such a situation would be. Stopping the infliction of trauma on the defenseless should be something we can all agree on, the heart of a much needed bi-partisan compromise on illegal immigration.

Until we right this wrong, fantastic organizations like Organization to Help Citizen Children (OtHCC) are making heroic efforts to lessen the harm done to displaced citizen children. OtHCC’s chief focus is to:

Solicit churches along both sides of the border to “adopt” deported families and provide assistance to them.

This strategy identifies families on either side of the border that would provide support for the “adopted children.” On the U. S. side, a family would be asked to take in a U. S. -born child into their home and provide care for them during the school week. This would enable the children to pursue their education through the public schools of a particular state.

On the Mexican side, a family would be asked to provide temporary shelter and assist the undocumented members of the “adopted” family in obtaining employment and locating a permanent place to live.

Truly a noble pursuit that puts the faith and human spirit of those involved to work righting a terrible wrong. Simultaneously, OtHCC strives to raise public awareness of the plight of citizen children, press for priority status for these families in future federal legislation and call for a moratorium on the deportation of parents of U.S.-born children, and pursue legal remedies on behalf of these children. OtHCC accepts donations here. If you feel like I do, tell your friends.