The conversation is everywhere -- Arizona has a new immigration law that requires police officers to detain anyone who "looks like" an illegal immigrant and fails to produce proof of American citizenship. And legislators in seven other states are now debating similar bills as are gubernatorial candidates in several more states who have promised to enact similar legislation if they are elected.
While news stories out of Arizona are describing the chilling effect the new law is having on men and women of Latino origin, what's not being adequately covered is the impact on Latino children--specifically, the fact that 92% of Latino children in this country are United States citizens. These young Americans are going to carry the burden of this policy for many years to come.
Imagine a Latino family being stopped on the street and asked to show their identification papers. Nine times out of ten, the children will be United States citizens with the same rights as your child, or any other child you know.
And in truth, Latino children are similar to other American kids. The vast majority speak English as their primary language, they want to please their parents and teachers, and they carry forward the American dream of working hard and succeeding, of becoming "someone." These dreams can be seriously crushed when a guy wearing a uniform and carrying a gun pulls them and their family over on the side of the road to demand papers.
However, the impact of this 92% situation runs even deeper than these civil rights abuses in the name of immigration law enforcement.
Last week the National Council of La Raza (NCLR) and Population Reference Bureau released a report entitled "America's Future: Latino Child Well-Being in Numbers and Trends." Why call a report about Latino children "America's Future?" Likely because projections are that by 2035, one-third of all children in the United States will be of Latino ancestry.
How about we take a pause here and project this logic out further? When these Latino children become adults, we are looking at a future where a huge share of America's economic engine will be riding on them. The problem is that unless we improve social-economic conditions for these future voters and taxpayers, our future is in jeopardy.
The NCLR reports that the Latino population in the United States boasts many strengths, including a strong work ethic, strong family ties, vibrant and cohesive communities, and especially a commitment to the well-being of their children. Yet this commitment to a bright future for their children is often thwarted by unfair forces beyond their control.
Relative to white children, Latino children are more than twice as likely to grow up in low-income families. If current trends continue, in twenty years 44% of all U.S. children living in poverty will be Latino. And the reality is that poverty is not due to deadbeat parents: the majority of low-income families in the U.S. have at least one full-time working parent.
Working class families face a unique set of challenges. Given tight family budgets and that parents often hold multiple jobs or work during off-peak hours, finding quality and affordable childcare as well as early learning and afterschool programs is a difficult proposition. Also, low-wage earners devote a larger share of their income to housing compared to those with higher incomes (leaving little for savings), workplace health benefits are scarce (risking debt or bankruptcy due to medical problems), and their jobs do not provide room for advancement, all of which leaves too many children in poverty from infancy to adulthood.
Children who live in poverty without a healthy start and access to quality educational opportunities will not be able to contribute their full talents to the future of America. For us to excel as a nation, we need all of our country's children, including Latino children, to be operating at their full God-intended capacity.
As Janet Murguía, the executive director of NCLR, recently stated here in the Huffington Post: "Latino youth are strong and resilient and can thrive with adequate support and equal opportunity...As a country we need to think about how the policies and laws we adopt will affect our country's future workers, taxpayers, parents, voters, and leaders."
So when we think of police officers stopping families with children on the streets of Arizona, or any other state, it's critical to remember that 92% of them are United States citizens. But we also have to assess the overall way in which our country is helping or hindering Latino children in being able to thrive and prosper. Carrying the burden of racial profiling in the name of immigration law enforcement is one among many obstacles these children face on their path to adulthood.
To turn things around, we'll need more than just Latinos working for change. We'll need experts from multiple professions including public policy, economics, city planning, education and youth advocacy all recognizing that Latino children's wellbeing is an American problem, and an American opportunity. Our laws and social structures will need to reflect the reality that these children's lives are inextricably intertwined with that of our country as a whole.
A Peaceful Revolution is a blog about innovative ideas to strengthen America's families through public policies, business practices, and cultural change. Done in collaboration with MomsRising.org, read a new post here each week. Submission inquiries to Nanette@MomsRising.org.