Lonergan: The Immigration Debate’s Forgotten Children

American, Migrant Children
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When the latest migrant caravan was marching toward America, the media focused on mothers accompanied by small children even though they were only a small number of the total group. During the media frenzy over illegal alien parents separated from their children at the border last summer, outrage was stoked by images of children behind metal fencing.

TIME magazine ratcheted up the anger with a shamelessly disingenuous cover image of Donald Trump coldly staring down a sobbing child. 

See a trend here? The plight of children, particularly those of illegal alien parents, is a powerful tool for those who manipulate public opinion with the goal of a borderless America. Fine, let’s have a national debate about the children. But it should start with a different set of children: the citizen and legal resident children already in the United States.

“America is the wealthiest country in the world” is a tiresome, apocryphal line used to justify swinging our doors open to absorb the planet’s impoverished masses. While it’s true that our economic strength is the envy of most countries, it’s also true that we are more than $21 trillion in debt and growing every day. We simply do not have infinite resources. So the question is, do we give America’s children—our children—any concern over those from the rest of the world?

Despite America’s high standard of living in general, the fact is that many children in our country are in need. It is estimated that 15 million children in the U.S. live in families with incomes below the federal poverty threshold. The Census Bureau’s most recent household food security survey found that about 6.5 million children, or 8.8 percent, “lived in households in which one or more child was food insecure” in 2016. Among our population of college graduates, more than 44 million borrowers collectively owe $1.5 trillion in student loan debt. The Who was wrong; the kids are not alright. 

These are just the problems children face from everyday life in America. When illegal immigration is added, the problems are compounded. It starts with education, where we are endlessly told that our public school systems are already underfunded. Most children of illegal aliens, refugees, and legal immigrants are placed in programs for students with Limited English Proficiency (LEP). LEP students cost taxpayers approximately $59.2 billion annually. Almost the entirety of this cost, 98.9 percent, is borne by taxpayers at the local and state level.

African-American children suffer the most from this phenomenon, as historical disadvantages may cause them to lag behind academically while limited funding is directed away from them and toward LEP arrivals. A local NAACP chapter threatened a lawsuit in Prince George’s County, Md., after education officials earmarked more than $3 million in funding for two separate schools for LEP students. This struggle is going on in almost every state in the Union. 

Far from worrying about the effect of these expenditures on its English-speaking students, some school districts are doubling down. They have declared their districts “safe havens” or “sanctuaries,” meaning they offer protections to illegal aliens residing in the districts against deportation by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). It would be reasonable for parents to ask, how many worthwhile educational opportunities are my children missing out on to pay for all this generosity, virtue signaling, and defiance of federal law?

It seems we are regularly bombarded with news about massive government expenditures related to illegal immigration. Just recently we learned via an Immigration Reform Law Institute investigation that the Obama administration circumvented federal law when it doled out roughly $310 million in taxpayer money to provide legal representation to unaccompanied alien minors. How many new schools could $310 million build? How many new teachers could it hire? The children of America got nothing from that transaction. 

Beyond education, it is also fair to ask if we are sufficiently protecting our children’s physical well-being. While many illegal aliens are simply trying to adapt to life in a foreign country, others may not be vetted for past criminal behavior or recruitment by hyper-violent gangs like MS-13. The silent crisis in America today is the ever-expanding list of children who have lost their lives at the hands of foreign nationals who should not have been in the country. America was motivated to war and a massive upheaval of our security posture when 3,000 innocent lives were taken on Sept. 11, 2001. How many of our innocent children must die before America shows a fraction of that determination to secure our borders?

The United States has been, is, and will continue to be a generous nation that seeks to help those in need around the world. Because of this, we should not allow ourselves to be pressured into an anti-borders immigration policy over false allegations that we don’t care about children. We do, starting with our own.   

Brian Lonergan is director of communications at the Immigration Reform Law Institute, a public interest law firm working to defend the rights and interests of the American people from the negative effects of mass migration.

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