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High Stakes for Children in Immigration Reform

PHOTO: Children of immigrant families rally on Capitol Hill. Photo credit: First Focus
PHOTO: Children of immigrant families rally on Capitol Hill. Photo credit: First Focus
May 21, 2013

ANNAPOLIS, Md. - As a U.S. Senate committee prepares to vote this week on a sweeping immigration reform bill, advocates for children say it contains critical provisions for protecting and helping immigrant youth. For kids in Maryland, who will benefit from the state's DREAM Act passed last year, it includes a pathway to citizenship, and other provisions to keep families together.

According to Wendy Cervantes, vice president, immigration and child rights policy, First Focus Campaign for Children, one of the most important provisions would keep families from being torn apart, and give parents who are detained or deported more of a say in what happens to their kids.

"And what's happening to those children is that they're going back to their parents to a country they may have never known, or they're staying behind here with family members or friends," she declared.

Cervantes said about 5,000 kids are in foster care in the U.S. because their parents have been detained or deported. The proposed Senate bill would make it much harder to terminate parental rights because of immigration status.

The legislation also provides a pathway to citizenship for the nation's estimated 11 million immigrants who are not here legally, including about 270,000 immigrants living in Maryland. Cervantes said the Maryland DREAM act passed last year, which provides in-state tuition for unauthorized immigrant students, still leaves too many kids with an uncertain future.

"What's still missing is a pathway to citizenship, so these young people can really contribute to the United States and really achieve full citizenship."

Both Maryland's senators, Barbara Mikulski and Ben Cardin, have been vocal supporters of immigration reform, including a pathway to citizenship and more protections for children. If the legislation clears the Senate Judiciary Committee this week, a full Senate vote is expected in June.

A link to the Senate immigration reform bill and amendments is at Judiciary.Senate.gov.

Alison Burns, Public News Service - MD