How Did Children Fare in the SJC Immigration Reform Markup?
Wendy Cervantes (Former Staff)Children of Immigrants
This past Tuesday, the Senate Judiciary Committee (SJC) voted to advance the immigration reform bill (S.744) onto the Senate floor, representing a historic step forward for immigrant children and families. The committee considered numerous amendments over a period of five days, and the First Focus Campaign for Children (FFCC) determined that many amendments had the potential to positively or negatively affect children and families. Overall, children fared very well in the process, with the passage of several positive amendments that will help keep families together in the face of immigration enforcement, enhance educational and employment opportunities for DREAMers, and improve protections for unaccompanied migrant children. Amendments that could have harmed children were also successfully defeated. However, several amendments that could have directly benefited children’s health and well-being were not offered, withdrawn, or defeated. The bill now moves to the Senate floor where the bill will be considered by the full Senate.
Below are a few of the major gains and losses for kids in the markup process. An update on the full list of amendments FFCC determined could impact children can be viewed via this link.
Positive Amendments Passed
- Franken 7, the “HELP Separated Children Act”, was passed by a unanimous vote, and received widespread SJC support across party lines. The amendment will improve immigration enforcement policies to protect child well-being and promote family unity by ensuring that parents’ are able to make decisions regarding their child’s care at the time of apprehension, while in detention, and prior and following removal.
- Hirono 22, the “Child Trafficking Victims Protection Act” provides additional services and protections for unaccompanied minors in CBP custody, including providing adequate medical care and conducting screening upon apprehension.
- Hirono 21 allows DREAMers to access tuition assistance while in RPI status, making college more affordable for students. It was passed with a second degree amendment which excludes access to Pell Grants.
- Coons 10 ensures that individuals authorized to be employed in the United States may not be denied professional, commercial, or business licenses on the basis of immigration status, which is beneficial for Dreamers and other young people seeking employment.
- Feinstein 5 creates a pilot program under the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPRA) to deter, detect, and prevent child trafficking by utilizing the services of independent child welfare professionals to assist CBP in the screening of children.
- Feinstein 6 improves protections for unaccompanied children by requiring Customs and Border Patrol to adopt standards for treatment of children in custody.
Negative Amendments Defeated
- Cruz 2 & 3: Makes any individual who has ever been in the U.S. in unlawful status ineligible for means-tested benefits or citzenship, which would result in nearly 1 million children never being able to access critical health and nutrition benefits or citizenship.
- Grassley 11 would have removed the provision that allows individuals who are detained or in removal proceedings but may be eligible for RPI status to apply for such status. It also would have replaced the provision that allows certain undocumented immigrants who were removed to reenter the U.S. in the interest of family unity with an expansion of DHS’ ability to deport individuals in RPI status. Overall, the amendment would have removed a number of provisions that are highly beneficial for family unity and replaced them with provisions that would likely result in more children becoming separated from their families.
- Sessions 30 would have restricted access to the Child Tax Credit (CTC) by excluding those that file with an Independent Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) number, directly harming children in immigrant families, many of whom are U.S. citizen children.
- Sessions 31 would have denied the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) to families with children during the entire RPI period, restricting it until families become LPRs or U.S. citizens, meaning children could have been denied access to the EITC, a proven anti-poverty tool, for a minimum of 10 years.
Positive Amendments Not Offered, Withdrawn, or Defeated
- Blumenthal 1, Little Dreamers, would have enabled young children to adjust to lawfully permanent resident (LPR) status after completing 5 years of registered provisional immigrant (RPI) status under the DREAM title if they are under the age of 18 at time of adjustment to LPR status. The amendment was not offered for consideration during the SJC markup.
- Hirono 10 would have allowed citizens to petition for their son or daughter if their child’s absence from the U.S. is causing the citizen hardship, promoting family unity through the family based immigration system. The amendment was not agreed to by a 7-11 vote.
- Hirono 16 would have removed the five-year waiting period for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), Medicaid and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) for children, pregnant women, and lawfully present individuals, reducing the wait for children to be eligible for critical nutrition and health assistance. The amendment was withdrawn.
- Hirono 17 would have allowed time in RPI status to count towards five-year waiting period for federal means-tested benefits, so income-eligible children will not have to wait an additional 5 years for critical nutrition and health assistance following time in RPI and LPR status. It also would have provided a state option to eliminate the five-year bar for Medicaid for LPRs, Dreamers, and blue-card holders. The amendment was withdrawn.
Please see the following additional child-specific resources on the Senate immigration proposal and SJC process: