Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Immigration Law Affects Child Rights

Universal Children's Day on November 20th marked the the adoption of the Declaration on the Rights of the Child and Convention on the Rights of the Child by the United Nations General Assembly. The U.S. and Solmalia are the only countries that have not ratified the Convention. The U.S. signed the Convention in 1995 indicating its intention to ratify, however, the President has not presented the Convention to the Senate. U.S. Ambassador E. Michael Southwick stated that the U.S. believes "the text goes too far when it asserts entitlements based on the economic, social and cultural rights contained in the Convention and other instruments." The Convention requires that the "best interests of the child" be the primary consideration in all actions concerning children.

"There is an absolute void in immigration law in terms of the best interest of the child," according to Maria Woltjen, of the Immigrant Children's Advocacy Project. Recent international and national news highlight the issues faced by both immigrant and U.S. citizen children affected by immigration law.

The International Detention Coalition marked Universal Children's Day by calling on countries to respect the rights of children under the Convention including the obligation to seek alternatives to detention. In 2005, the United States held 7,787 unaccompanied children in custody under the Department of Health and Human Services. Approximately ninety percent of immigrant children in custody lack legal representation. The Unaccompanied Alien Child Protection Act would require the appointment of an advocate for unaccompanied minors.

The rights of U.S. citizen children of undocumented immigrants face a challenge in Texas from a new legislative proposal. Representative Leo Berman (R-Tyler) of the Texas House of Representatives filed House Bill 28, which would deny U.S.-born children of undocumented immigrants access to food stamps, public housing, government pensions, disability checks, as well as the right to government employment. The bill would also deny the children the right to public education and state-funded health care, but Berman stated that he plans to remove those prohibitions due to U.S. Supreme Court rulings.

State Senator Juan Hinojosa (D-McAllen), the chairman of the Texas Senate Hispanic Caucus said that the proposal and similar bills have "tinges of racism," are unconstitutional, and will not pass, according to the Brownsville Herald. Legal experts and immigrant rights advocates predict that the bill will not survive a constitutional challenge. According to the Pew Hispanic Center, 3.1 million U.S. citizen children have parents who are undocumented immigrants.

Last week New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson asked President Bush to consider parole for Elvira Arellano, an undocumented immigrant who took refuge in a Chicago church following a deportation order. Her seven-year old son, Saul Arellano, a U.S. citizen, recently visited Mexico and successfully urged the 500-member Mexican Chamber of Deputies to assist in preventing his mother's deportation. In a unanimous resolution, the Mexican Chamber of Deputies asked President Bush and the U.S. Congress not to deport Elvira Arellano.

The Child Citizen Protection Act (H.R. 5035) introduced in March 2006 by Congressman Jose E. Serrano (D-NY) would provide partial discretionary authority to an immigration judge to determine that a non-citizen parent of a U.S. citizen child should not be ordered removed from the U.S. if such removal is clearly against the best interests of child.

We urge you to join the American Friends Service Committee and call on the nation's elected officials to protect the fundamental human rights of the U.S.-born children of undocumented immigrants. Join use by taking the following steps NOW:

Oppose Texas House Bill 28: Contact Representative Berman's Office and express your opinion in opposition to House Bill 28. To e-mail Representative Berman click here or call (903) 939-2400. If you are from Texas, contact your state representative and urge them to oppose House Bill 28. Oppose any actions that use children as scapegoats in the state's immigration debates.

Contact Senator Harry Reid and Representative Nancy Pelosi: Let them know that keeping immigrant familites together must be one of the family values reflected in future immigration reform actions. To e-mail Senator Reid click here or call (202)224-3542. To e-mail Representative Pelosi click here, e-mail sf.nancy@mail.house.gov or call (202) 225-4965.