Two Immigration Amendments to Watch

May 6, 2013

As Congress debates immigration reform, child advocates have their eyes on two amendments - The Little Dreamers Amendment and HELP Separated Children.

In brief:

  • Little DREAMers calls to improve the DREAM Act as currently drafted in the Senate proposal so that the youngest children will not be forced to wait more than a decade before being eligible for citizenship.

  • Humane Enforcement and Legal Protections (HELP) for Separated Children Act of 2013 is designed to keep kids safe, informed, and accounted for during Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raids. It specifies that detained parents must be given an opportunity to contact and arrange care for their children.

1. The "Little DREAMers" Amendment

What is at stake?

Children of immigrants comprise one quarter of the U.S. child population, and will make up a critical segment of our future workforce. While the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act (S.744) is a historic step in the right direction for young immigrants, under the bill some of our most vulnerable children would be required to wait more than a decade before they are eligible for citizenship.

The DREAM Act in S.744 provides an expedited 5-year path to citizenship for youth who entered the U.S. prior to age 16, have graduated from high school or earned a GED, and earned a college diploma, attended two years of college, or spent four years in the military. However, the bill does not allow those who entered the U.S. as children but are too young to have graduated from high school or completed a GED to qualify for the 5-year path to citizenship under the DREAM Act. Instead, these children are required to follow the standard adult path to citizenship, which could mean up to a 13-year wait for the youngest children.

What does the amendment do?

The Little Dreamers amendment, sponsored by Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), would ensure that young children are not excluded from the DREAM Act’s expedited pathway to citizenship simply because of their age. Specifically, the Little Dreamers amendment would allowchildren who meet requirements of the DREAM Act and are under the age of 18 upon completing five years of registered provisional status to be eligible to adjust to lawfully permanent resident status and be immediately eligible for citizenship.

Why is this important?

The children who would be eligible under this amendment represent the youngest segment of “DREAMers” seeking relief through immigration reform. An expedited pathway to citizenship for minor children would:

  • Ensure that no child has to wait more than a decade for life-saving care by providing more timely access to affordable health care coverage, such as Medicaid and CHIP, including preventive care that will enable kids to be healthier students
  • Reduce the number of children who go to bed hungry by not forcing children to wait up to 10 years to be eligible for critical nutrition assistance programs such as SNAP
  • Improve educational opportunities, including access to in-state tuition and higher education assistance
  • Eliminate any real or potential threat to take away young children’s access to school feeding programs
  • Create stability, security, and a sense of pride for children who are growing up in the U.S. and will later contribute to our workforce

Ultimately, providing young children with an expedited pathway to citizenship under the DREAM Act will ensure that every child in America has the opportunity to achieve his or her dreams and give back to the country they call home.


2. HELP for Separated Children Act of 2013

During mark-up slated for the week of May 13, Senator Franken (D-MN) is expected to introduce the HELP for Separated Children Act as an amendment. The Act has been introduced before and is a product of ongoing legislative and administrative efforts to ensure that ICE has protocols in place to prevent children from being placed into the child welfare system simply because their parents are detained or removed, and to reunify parents and children who become involved in both immigration and child welfare proceedings.
What does it do?

Specifically, the amendment would do the following:

  • Allow parents to make calls to arrange for the care of their children and ensures that children can call or visit their parents while they are detained;
  • Allow parents to participate in child welfare and family court proceedings affecting their children;
  • Ensure that parents can coordinate their departures with their children;
  • Require ICE to consider the best interests of children in detention, release, and transfer decisions affecting their parents; and
  • Provide training for ICE and detention facility personnel on best practices for protecting children


Why is this important to children and families?

A second grader comes home from school to find his 2-year-old brother alone and his parents gone.

On December 12, 2006, Immigrations and Customs Enforcement carried out enforcement actions in Colorado, Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, Texas, and Utah, arresting 1,500 unauthorized immigrants.

The raids left numerous children—most of them citizens and legal residents— without their parents and with no way to find them.

One second-grader in Worthington, Minnesota came home from school to find his 2 year-old brother alone and his parents gone. For the next week, he cared for his brother while his grandmother drove to meet them.

Between July 1, 2010 and September 31, 2012, ICE issued a total of 204,810 removals for parents of U.S. citizen children. On average, 23,000 removals are issued for parents of U.S. citizen children every quarter, a rate that has held steady over the past two years.[1] 

When parents are detained or removed, children may be left at home or school because the Department of Homeland Security does not have a policy to allow apprehended parents to make arrangements for their children’s care. These children are also at great risk of unnecessarily being placed into the child welfare system, at great cost to states.

Children whose parents are detained or removed can go for months without speaking to or visiting their parents, and are at great risk of permanent family separation. Because it is so difficult for detained and removed parents to participate in the family court proceedings or complete court orders that child welfare involvement necessitates, parental rights are sometimes terminated and some children are even adopted by American families.

In 2011, at least 5,100 children were in foster care because of their parents’ detention or removal, and independent research by the Applied Research Center estimates that 15,000 more children will enter the child welfare system within five years if policies are not put in place to reverse this trend.[2]

How can I learn more?

For a summary of this amendment and a section-by-section analysis, click here (PDF file).

[1]ColorLines, "Deportations of Parents of U.S.-Born Citizens," (December 17, 2012).

[2]Applied Research Center, Shattered Families: The Perilous Intersection between Immigration Enforcement and the Child Welfare System (November 2011).

This article is adapted from information and posts originally published by the Coalition on Human Needs and is printed here with permission. View the original PDF here.