New Amendments to Homeland Security Bill May Curtail Immigrant Youth Rights

Two of the five proposed amendments to the Homeland Security Appropriations Act, which will fund the Department of Homeland Security, are being critiqued by children advocacy organizations who charge that the amendments are meant to tear immigrant families apart.

First Focus Campaign, which puts pressure on congressional members for children’s rights, sent a letter Tuesday to members of the House of Representatives detailing some of the devastating impact the amendments will have on undocumented families.

Ed Walz, a spokesman for the non-profit, said the amendments will ultimately harm children by separating families.

One amendment introduced by Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-Ala.) would curtail protections for an estimated 4.5 million U.S. citizen children whose undocumented family members are protected by last year’s Deferred Action for Parental Accountability initiative. The initiative was set to provide deportation reliefs to the undocumented parents of the U.S. citizen youth  and lawful permanent resident children.

Taking the parents away from the children resulted in putting these youth into foster homes systems that are already operating at an overcapacity level, according to Walz.

The other amendment introduced by Rep.Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) would defund the 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, initiative, which was hailed by many immigrant rights activists.

The amendment would constrain DACA from helping people get to work, get an education and contribute to America’s society and economy. In fact, Walz said the amendment would put 600,000 or more youth at risk of deportation again.

The bill included $10.7 billion in funding for Customs and Border Protection (which is an increase of $118.7 compared to last year), and $3.4 billion for ICE detention programs, which also has seen an increase of $362,155,000 increase since last year. The bill, as of now, does not include language that specifies plans to tighten funding to implement President Barack Obama’s November 2014 executive actions on immigration.

The text of the letter is below:

Dear Representative:

On behalf of the First Focus Campaign for Children (FFCC), a bipartisan advocacy organization dedicated to making children and families a priority in federal policy and budget decisions, I write to express our strong opposition to “The Department of Homeland Security Fiscal Year 2015 Appropriations Act” (H.R. 240), introduced by Rep. Hal Rogers (R-KY). This funding bill includes several amendments that directly attack children and families by putting them at risk of deportation.

The FFCC has long advocated for both the DREAM Act and comprehensive immigration reform that would provide a pathway to citizenship for undocumented youth and families. Given the lack of progress by Congress, we have also advocated for executive action to halt the devastating separation of families due to deportation. We oppose the amendments attached to this bill that seek to prohibit funds or fees to be used for the new Deferred Action for Parental Accountability (DAPA) program as well as continuation and expansion of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.

The amendment to H.R. 240 by Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) would prohibit funds or fees for the continuation and expansion of the DACA, a program that has already benefitted hundreds of thousands of immigrant youth who entered the U.S. as children by enabling them to work legally, freely pursue their education, obtain drivers licenses, and better contribute to our society. Not only would this prevent any other youth from accessing the program, but it would also put current DACA-beneficiaries at risk for deportation.

The amendment to H.R. 240 by Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-AL) would prohibit funds or fees for the new DAPA program that would provide relief from deportation and work authorization to parents of U.S. citizens and lawfully permanent residents (LPRs). This new program has the potential to improve the lives of up to 4.5 million U.S. citizen children currently living in mixed-status families. Research shows that a parent’s deportation, or simply the fear alone of a parent being deported, can harm children’s mental and physical health and overall well-being. Research also documents that a parent’s undocumented status can impede their child’s healthy development as undocumented parents are less able to access stable employment or critical resources for their children. The DAPA program would provide parents with work authorization and temporary reprieve from deportation, enabling them to better provide and care for their children.

In conclusion, we believe these amendments to H.R. 240 are not only reckless and misguided, but they also undermine our American values and do nothing to fix our immigration system. A vote in favor H.R. 240 with these amendments will be scored for our Champion for Children scorecard as a vote against children. Rather than attempt to block the recent Executive immigration actions and maintain a status quo that harms children and tears families apart, we urge the House of Representatives to move forward with a funding bill that will allow the Department of Homeland Security to fulfill its mission. We also urge policymakers on both sides of the aisle to work together to advance immigration reform that would provide a permanent solution for immigrant children and families.

Sincerely,

Bruce Lesley President

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