This week marks the 30th anniversary of the Plyler v. Doe Supreme Court ruling, a statute that embodies our belief as Americans that all children should have the opportunity to achieve their full potential. The ruling established that every child, regardless of their immigration status, is entitled to a public K-12 education. Specifically, the ruling deemed it unconstitutional to discriminate against children "on the basis of a legal characteristic over which children have little control" -- namely their immigration status -- and also observed that restrictive education policies would ultimately lead to "the creation and perpetuation of a subclass" within our society. In short, the ruling confirmed that children should not be punished for circumstances beyond their control and that investing in our children is key to our country's future.
Unfortunately, over the past few months these common sense principles of fairness and opportunity seem to have been lost in what can only be described as targeted attacks against a growing segment of the child population -- children of immigrants. In Alabama, thousands of families pulled their children out of school last fall after the passage of HB56 despite the fact that the law's immigration documentation requirements are a direct violation of the Plyler statute. At the federal level, proposals by Senator Vitter and Senator Rubio seek to prevent immigrant parents who file their taxes with an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) from claiming the Child Tax Credit, a policy change that would directly harm up to 5.5 million children, more than 80 percent of whom are U.S. citizens. And just last week, Senator Sessions introduced a proposal that would deny the very same population of children access to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).
Around the country our children are suffering, as 22 percent of our nation's children are already living in poverty. Proposals to push even more children into poverty makes no sense for those concerned about children or our nation's future.
The fact is that children do not live in isolation from their parents, so anyone who tries to argue that these proposals are directed solely at parents is ignoring the obvious. Let's be very clear: millions of innocent children will ultimately pay the price if these proposals are implemented. For instance, restricting eligibility for the Child Tax Credit would put millions of children at risk of falling into poverty at a time when the U.S. child poverty rate is at a 20-year high. In fact, immigrant families with an annual income of $21,000 would lose an average of $1,800 a year -- money that is often spent on basic necessities like rent, clothing, and food. Furthermore, the SNAP proposal by Senator Sessions would literally take the food out of the mouths of hungry children -- up to 4.5 million kids, all of whom are U.S. citizen children.
The bottom line is that our future as a country depends on whether we stand up for our children today, regardless of race, class, gender, or immigration status. Children of immigrants now comprise one in four of all U.S. children, and will also be our future voters, community leaders, and workers. Thus, it is critical that we hold our policymakers accountable for pushing irresponsible policies at the state or federal level that would deny any segment of our child population from the resources they need to grow and thrive.
In America, we simply don't punish children because of their circumstances or who their parents are. Just as we will not deny any child access to an education, we likewise should not deny any child access to food or shelter. The anniversary of the Plyler v. Doe ruling should serve as a reminder that it is in our best interest to ensure the dignity and success of every single child.
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