Migrants' kids missing out
The Arizona Republic
Feb. 8, 2005 12:00 AM
Study: Fearful parents skipping benefits for fast-growing group
Sergio Bustos and Daniel Gonzalez
Arizona was among 13 states
nationwide whose population of kids with immigrant parents grew by more than 80
percent between 1990 and 2000, according to an Urban Institute study to be
released today. Only 10 other states had higher growth rates.
The study paints an illuminating portrait of millions of young children of
immigrants - a group often overlooked by researchers and policy makers - who may
be eligible for a variety of public services.
Randy Capps, the study's lead researcher at the Urban Institute in Washington,
D.C., said the high percentage of undocumented immigrant parents raises serious
public policy issues.
"These children may be eligible for a host of public benefits like food stamps
and health insurance, but their parents may be too afraid of applying for them
out of fear of being deported," Capps said.
He also said the presence of so many young children of immigrants presents a
real challenge for state and local officials, especially schools, across much of
the country. Schools will need to prepare for, and adapt to, the needs of
children who come from immigrant families.
"The future of these children will largely depend on the neighborhoods they grow
up in, the education they receive and investments we make in them," he said.
The study's authors, using 2000 Census data, found that more than one in five
young children under age 6, about 22 percent, live with at least one
foreign-born parent. That translates to 5.1 million children nationwide.
The authors also found that an overwhelming majority of these children, about 93
percent, are U.S. citizens, but a significant percentage of their parents, 30
percent, live illegally in the country.
Capps said the report shows President Bush's proposed guest-worker plan could
have a dramatic impact on millions of children whose parents lack legal
Under Bush's plan, the country's estimated 8 million to 10 million undocumented
immigrants would be eligible for temporary work visas that would allow them to
remain in the country. But they would have to return to their native country
when the visas expire.
"However you feel about undocumented immigrants, the whole issue is complicated
by the fact they have children who are U.S. citizens," Capps said.
New law, added fear
In Arizona, the recent passage of Protect Arizona Now has further scared
immigrant parents from applying for benefits for their U.S.-born children, even
though their children may be entitled to them, said Luis Ibarra, executive
director of Friendly House, a non-profit organization that provides human
services targeted at Latino immigrant families.
The ballot measure, intended to ensure undocumented immigrants don't receive
state benefits and don't vote, requires state workers to report undocumented
immigrants who apply for certain benefits to federal immigration officials.
"Consequently children aren't getting medical services or after-school programs
they need," Ibarra said.
Dana Naimark, director of special projects at the Children's Action Alliance a
Phoenix-based non-profit, nonpartisan research and advocacy organization, said
not enough attention has been paid to the large increase in the number of
children of immigrants in Arizona.
"Some people might react with fear," Naimark said.
However, "these children are our future workforce. They are our future teachers,
our future business people, our future leaders. So therefore what happens to
them isn't important just to their own families. It's important to all of us."
She said while children of immigrants face many challenges, they also bring
several strengths, notably that many come from two-parent, working families.
Topping the needs of these families are good-paying jobs, access to quality
education, and good, safe child care, "needs that all families have," she said.
More services urged
Laura Walker, director of Early Childhood Development for Chicanos Por La Causa,
a non-profit social services organization, said there are not enough programs to
help prepare children of immigrants for school.
At just the nine Head Start programs she oversees around Phoenix and other parts
of the state, seven have waiting lists. Combined, the nine programs serve 700
children, almost all of them children of immigrants.
"We could serve 300 to 400 more children," she said.
Walker said the state's education system was unprepared for the large influx of
children of immigrants that arrived during the 1990s and which continues to
grow. Many of these children come from families where English is not spoken at
home, yet the lack of bilingual staff prevents schools from being able to
adequately communicate with parents, she said.
Among other highlights of the study:
• Young children of immigrants are more likely to live in two-parent families
than U.S. natives (86 percent vs. 75 percent).
• They are more likely to live in two-parent families with low incomes (50
percent vs. 26 percent) and low education (29 percent have less than a high
school diploma vs. 8 percent of U.S.-born parents).
• They are less likely to receive welfare benefits and more likely to lack
health insurance than U.S.-born parents.
• The states with the fastest-growing population of children of immigrants
between 1990 and 2000 were North Carolina, Nebraska, Arkansas, Nevada, Georgia,
Iowa, Tennessee, Oregon, Colorado and Idaho.