Immigration legislation does not take children into account

by Alicia Manzano
October 12, 2011

I was reading an article today aimed at telling the story of the new challenges that immigrant families in Alabama are facing. Alabama recently passed legislation that has been deemed among the most severe immigration policies undertaken by a state. The law allows police officers to detain people during routine traffic stops or arrests if a “reasonable suspicion” exists that the person is in the country without documentation. Now I have heard all of the arguments to support this type of divisive legislation, but I don’t want to spend time talking about the legal implications right now. Today, I want to talk about the children.

Back to the article. The story was centered on the fear that parents in Alabama now have about their children’s future. Many are finding friends and family members who will take their children in if they themselves are arrested or, worse, deported. They are meeting with local advocacy organizations to get legal advice on how to ensure the safety of their children, many of whom were born in the United States.

While reading the story, it got me thinking about a conversation I recently had with a friend who is expecting. She was talking about how scary it was to think about leaving her child with a stranger when she goes back to work. She talked about how difficult it was going to be to let go of the reins and allow another individual to care for her child for eight hours a day. I gave her the same advice any friend would. I assured her that she would be spending lots of quality time with her child and that she would find the perfect child care provider.

Then I thought about the mothers in Alabama who are planning for their children’s futures not just for eight hours a day but, possibly, for the rest of their lives. Many immigrant parents come to the United States seeking a better life for their children—giving their children access to better education and economic opportunities. Basically, what every parent wants for their child. Now imagine wanting that so badly that you will do everything in your power to protect that child from being without a family on this quest.

The Alabama senator who sponsored this legislation said he wonders if these stories are “designed to pull on heart strings and build sympathy for illegal immigrants.” I would respond to that by saying, these stories are not “designed” or crafted. For immigrants in Alabama, these stories represent their new reality. He also said that he “would do whatever it took for my family to stay with me. It’s beyond my comprehension that you would just leave your children anywhere.” Unfortunately, that is exactly what this new law is forcing people to do. I would then ask the senator, “Have you made arrangements for your child’s safety in the event that something should happen to you?” My guess would be yes. Would we all do everything in our power to ensure that our children are safe and lovingly cared for? In theory the answer is yes, but legislation that is being passed across the country is making that nearly impossible. When you encounter all of the rhetoric around the immigration issue, take a moment to think about the children.

Alicia Manzano is NM Voices’ Outreach Director.