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Anti-immigrant vitriol kicks off anxiety in children of immigrants

March 2, 2018
Alfred Lubrano
The Philadelphia Inquirer

PHILADELPHIA — A 4-year-old girl in a Pennsylvania Head Start program told her teacher that President Trump wanted to send her mother back to Mexico.

Her mother was born in the United States.

But because the child had absorbed endless vitriol about immigrants, and had heard scary tales of parents being deported, she was frightened that she’d lose the person closest to her. She’d concluded that Mexico was the primary place into which America casts its discarded people — where moms are disappeared.

That story, along with dozens like it, is included in the nation’s first-ever multi-state study documenting the effects of U.S. immigration policies and rhetoric on children under age 8 — including those living in families where every member has lawful immigration status, as well as those in mixed-status families.

The report, by the Center for Law and Social Policy , a national anti-poverty nonprofit based in Washington, asserted that the Trump administration “is wreaking havoc in the lives of young children.”

Based on interviews with more than 100 child-care and early-educational professionals in Pennsylvania as well as in California, Georgia, Illinois, New Mexico, and North Carolina, the report was released Thursday morning.

Children as young as 3 fear that their parents will be taken away, the report concluded. So profound is their anxiety that many are regressing and withdrawing from activities, co-author Hannah Matthews said in an interview. At the same time, parents fearing deportation limit their children’s access to health care, as well as to nutrition and education programs, even though many of the kids are U.S. citizens and entitled to help.

“Basically, millions of very young children are living a nightmare,” said Matthews, director of child care and early education for CLASP. Referencing the Pennsylvania 4-year-old, Matthews said she wasn’t permitted to disclose details about the child.

CLASP reported that around 9 million U.S. children under age 8 live in an immigrant family — one in which at least one parent is from another country — comprising 25 percent of all children in that age group.

About 93 percent of these children are U.S. citizens. The report added that about 2 million children under age 5 live with at least one undocumented parent.

In Pennsylvania, there are nearly 40,000 undocumented children, according to Donna Cooper, executive director of Public Citizens for Children and Youth, a local child advocacy group.