Over the 10 years up to 2007, the U.S. deported 108,434 adults whose children were U.S. citizens, according to a Department of Homeland Security report. The exact number of citizen children left behind in these deportations is unknown, because no one in the government cared to count them. The homeland security of these citizen children does not seem to have been the paramount concern of the U.S. government. Well, maybe excepting 13 of the removed adults, who were deported for "national security and related grounds." (Altogether, about half were undocumented immigrants and half were deported for criminal violations.)
Either keeping your parents from being dumped over the border isn't a right Americans enjoy, or someone in power doesn't really think these kids are American. Or both.
The New York Times quoted an anti-immigration spokesman as saying, "Should those parents get off the hook just because their kids are put in a difficult position? . . . Children often suffer because of the mistakes of their parents." As if this is unavoidable.
It is true that children suffer for the mistakes of their parents. They also suffer for the policies of their neighbors' parents, and for the poverty and discrimination their parents experience. Most children lose out to those whose parents have one advantage or another, but the extent of this intergenerational transfer is something we can affect.
One measure of a society's meritocracy is the level of advantage - and disadvantage - passed from parents to children. Whatever your own ability and effort, equal opportunity only exists to the extent that your parents' problems are not your own.
If children get burned by their origins, adults also face unequal opportunities to originate the families they want. Just as deported immigrant workers are denied the right to parent their children, poor parents can't get Medicaid to cover their infertility treatments - though it might pay for some Viagra. (Even without fertility coverage, economists worry that just providing prenatal care and other services to poor women might increase their tendency to have children. Now that would be a shame.)
Having a family - your family - is not a right of American citizenship, for parents or children. And in a society where intergenerational privilege and disadvantage are deeply entrenched, the denial of that right is a cornerstone of our system of inequality.