10/31/2011 11:03 am ET Updated Dec 31, 2011

What We Owe Immigrants

In a climate where Latino children in Alabama and other places are being harassed, and suffering anxiety, panic attacks, and depression, it is time for us to take a hard look at the mental health implications of being undocumented.

Tuesday, November 1st, the Institute on Public Safety & Social Justice at the Adler School of Professional Psychology will host a panel discussion that will explore the daily terror experienced by children due to current U.S. immigration policies.

The panel is in partnership with the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant & Refugee Rights, and organized in part by members of the Immigrant Youth Justice League. Those who attend will hear about what happens when some of the best and brightest among us are barred from reaching their potential and dissuaded from being able to access education and experience that could prepare them to be leaders of society.

When we start to break the spirit and very future of the youth that were raised, educated, and whose stories are the true history of the United States, we must take a deep look at how profoundly we cling to our country's broken immigration policies.

Currently there are over 11 million undocumented individuals in the United States. Due to many efforts to create more stringent immigration policies that are designed to "secure the borders," families that used to go back and forth to their countries of origin, are more likely to come here and stay.

Many immigrants bring their children with them. Currently there are approximately 2 million young, undocumented people in the U.S. brought here as children. About half have already reached adulthood, unable to secure documentation in their lifetimes.

Many in the United States are quick to dismiss immigrants without proper documentation. They are judged swiftly and callously about their supposed criminality, their disregard for assimilation, and for stealing jobs or resources provided by tax-paying citizens of the U.S. So much of this has to do with a huge campaign against immigrants that is founded on improper information. Many undocumented immigrants pay taxes without getting any of the benefits: social security, unemployment, or medical coverage.

They contribute to bolstering the economy, and keep whole communities afloat with the contributions of small businesses, goods and services, use of housing, their labor, and paying for all of the other necessities of life. Whether here legally or not, all individuals pay for goods and services and many places wish to attract more immigrants because the relationship between building the economy and the contribution of immigrants is undeniable.

The discussion around immigration has reached a fever pitch in the United States. The Obama administration has deported over 400,000 people so far, at a rate of 1,100 daily. Imagine the terror you would have if you had papers, but your parents and older siblings did not.

The threat of families being separated by force is a growing reality for hundreds of thousands of them. The government released a statement that "most of the people deported were criminals." Since that statement was made, it has been uncovered that 78 percent of those "criminals" were guilty only of traffic offenses, or of being unable to show proper documentation.

While some people see mass deportation as fixing a problem, many locales will soon reap the unintended upshot: more detention centers, vacant housing, children kept out of school and migrating from state to state, shuttering of businesses, labor shortages, and increased numbers of hate crimes.

Imagine leaving everything and everyone you know to live in an inhospitable place that treats you as if you were less than human. Eleven million people don't have to imagine it; they live it. And so do their kids.

As long as there is inequality in the world, there will be migration. As long as there is starvation, there will be migration. As long as there is better chance for survival elsewhere, there will be migration. Those who risk their lives to be able to feed and clothe their children, who endure hatred, slander, and second-class citizenship so that future generations may thrive are being vilified. And those who came here as children deserve to have a bonafide path to citizenship via the federal DREAM Act and other amnesty efforts.

In our country's history we've had many examples of hate, slavery, incarceration, racial containment and segregation. Ignoring crimes against human rights is unacceptable, and is beneath what we all should strive to be.

If you are a true patriot, a person who believes the United States is a great nation, then support humane treatment of the most vulnerable of its denizens; those that have sacrificed everything familiar for a shot at survival in a more humane place with better opportunity than where they were born. It is likely that you have your parents, grandparents or their parents to thank for the same.