The United States is one of the few remaining developed countries that grants citizenship to any person born on its soil. That facet of our Consitution’s 14th amendment has put the children of illegal immigrants in the cross-hairs of a fierce debate on immigration, education and social welfare.
Who are these kids? What are their lives like? The New York Times offers up some answers with data from a large scale study on the children of illegal immigrants.
It’s a timely study. An opinion piece in ParentDish earlier this week explores the ways American culture and laws hurt illegal immigrants’ kids. Whatever you think of their parents’ decision to come here illegally, the children themselves are innocents. Often though, their lives are dramatically altered for the worse by circumstances beyond their control.
It’s a lot of kids we’re talking about. In 2009, over 4 million children had at least one undocumented parent. Nearly 80% of these kids are U.S. citizens themselves.
That’s not because their parents are fiendishly crossing the border to give birth here, as Republican Senator Lindsay Graham would like you to believe. Over 80 percent of undocumented mothers who gave birth in this country had been here more than a year. More than half had been here longer than five years. These are women building lives and families where they live and work, not desperate people crossing the border pregnant.
The baby boom amongst undocumented workers reflects the growing numbers of illegal immigrants in this country, and the length of time they’re staying. The undocumented population is settling here, rather than simply migrating through for a growing season and returning home.
There’s scant support for changing the constitution to revoke these babies’ citizenship rights. At the same time, there’s a growing furor over the numbers of illegal immigrants in the country.
One way or the other, these American-born children will be part of the next generation of Americans. It seems helping them grow up healthy and integrated with American society should be at least as much a focus as stemming the tide of new illegal immigrants.
Photo: Jorge Ravines Fotografias