Most Americans acknowledge the problems caused by illegal immigration. Sovereign nations have both the right and need to protect their borders. However, what is to be done about the innocent children who were brought or sent to America by their parents? Should these children be provided with social services such as health care and public education? A review of applicable law makes the conclusion clear: children of illegal immigrants have the right to health care and education. Children of illegal immigrants should not be punished for their parents’ choice to illegally immigrate to the United States (Reyes).
There is an important distinction between the laws governing children of illegal immigrants born in the United States and those who were born elsewhere. Children born in the United States are automatically U.S. citizens (L.A. Times Editorial Board). The 14th Amendment of the Constitution states, “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and the State wherein they reside” (Library of Congress). Since the U.S. Constitution, as amended, is the supreme law of the United States, there is no higher legal authority (The White House). As citizens of the United States, children born on American soil have the right to social services such as public education and health care, regardless of their immigration status (L.A. Times Editorial Board).
Some argue that the 14th Amendment should be reinterpreted to exclude all children born to illegal immigrants. The editors of Bartleby.com argue that, “Many pregnant immigrant women are illegally coming into the country just to have their babies. These women get free medical attention for themselves and the baby. This is costing the U.S. millions of dollars every year” (Bartleby Editorial Staff). Even if this is true, it does not change the law. Any change in the law would require an additional constitutional amendment or a reinterpretation of the 14th Amendment by the U.S. Supreme Court (Spalding). This is possible but extremely unlikely. Therefore, the law is clear that children born in the United States of illegal parents cannot be denied the benefits of social services.
According to federal law, children born outside the U.S. to illegal immigrants have limited benefits (American Academy of Pediatrics Editorial Board). Services provided include public education and emergency medical care. Some claim that these children should receive no benefits (Bartleby Editorial Staff). In 1982, however, a landmark Supreme Court case, Plyler vs. Doe, held that “…states cannot constitutionally deny students a free public education on account of their immigration status” (American Immigration Council). The court held that the harm imposed on society would be greater than the money saved by excluding undocumented children from public schools. This ruling was based upon the Equal Protection Clause in the 14th Amendment, which states that “No State shall…deny any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws” (American Immigration Council). Therefore, children not born in the United States have the right to social services such as public education and health care. Although most states follow the federal model by limiting health care benefits to emergency care only, some states such as California, Illinois, and Massachusetts have expanded their state Medicaid insurance plans to include additional health care services (Lee).
Additionally, critics claim illegal immigrants do not have legal rights because they broke the law by migrating to the U.S. illegally. They claim only U.S. citizens, either natural born or naturalized, have Constitutional rights (Contreras). Others claim that providing illegal immigrants benefits is unfair to those trying to immigrate legally (Gurbanov). Nevertheless, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Zadvydas vs. Davis (2001) that, “…the Due Process Clause (of the 14th Amendment) applies to all persons within the United States including aliens, whether their presence is lawful, unlawful, temporary, or permanent” (Justia Law). Accordingly, children of illegal immigrants have constitutional rights that translate into a right to social service benefits.
The ACLU acknowledges that illegal immigration is indeed against the law. But once these undocumented immigrants migrate to the U.S., the ACLU claims the Constitution, “…protects them from discrimination based on race and national origin and from arbitrary treatment by the government…. Laws that punish [illegal immigrants] violate their fundamental right to fair and equal treatment” (Pro Con Editorial Staff). The ACLU’s argument is based upon the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment (Library of Congress) and is supported by Plyeler vs. Doe (American Immigration Council) and Zadvydas vs Davis (Justia Law).
Furthermore, denying undocumented immigrants health care benefits is a public health concern. According to Dr. Jeffery T. Kullgren from Harvard Medical School, “Limiting undocumented immigrants’ access to health services weakens efforts to fight the spread of communicable diseases among the general population….” (Pro Con Editorial Staff). Dr. Kullgren claims that because many diseases are identified when patients seek medical care for unrelated symptoms, “…identifying and treating communicable diseases in their earliest stages requires that undocumented immigrants be able to access services for all health conditions—not just those that have progressed to an emergency level or include symptoms of infectious disease—before others in the community are exposed…” (Pro Con Editorial Staff). Withholding public services from illegal immigrants is also impractical. Public services such as transportation and water facilities are so widely used that denying access to illegal aliens would not be possible. If someone is living in the U.S., regardless of their immigration status, they should be helped to lead healthy lives (Pro Con Editorial Staff). This will also limit the health threat to society.
All children in the U.S. should have access to health care services. A long-standing policy of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) stated, “Access to health care services, particularly for children, is important to ensure that acute and chronic conditions are diagnosed and treated in a timely manner, that health and development are adequately monitored, and that preventive services are provided as recommended” (Hernandez). From a medical perspective, early detection of disease is better for the individual and may be less expensive to society in the long run. The AAP’s position was recent reaffirmed in a new policy statement authored by Dr. Giblert Handal as follows: “It doesn’t make sense to have a policy that cares for kids but doesn’t care for other kids. They are kids. They don’t choose where to be born” (Seaman). To reiterate, innocent children should not be punished for their parents’ choices (Reyes).
Many immigrant families are unaware of the benefits their children are entitled to or they do not enroll their children in public schools because they fear social stigma or reprisal (American Academy of Pediatrics Editorial Board). In an attempt to solve this problem, the U.S. Departments of Justice and Education issued the following statement: “Under Federal Law, State and local educational agencies…are required to provide all children with equal access to public education at the elementary and secondary level” (Pro Con Editorial Staff). These departments also stated in a joint letter to educators that, “Recently we have become aware of student enrollment practices that may chill or discourage the participation, or lead to the exclusion, of students based on their or their parents’ or guardians’ actual or perceived citizenship or immigration status. These practices contravene Federal law” (Pro Con Editorial Board). Thus, by law and Federal regulations, all children must be provided equal access to public education.
Additionally, withholding education benefits from children of illegal immigrants is simply not right. Denying public education to the children of illegal immigrants forces them to suffer handicaps such as poor health, illiteracy, and poverty (American Academy of Pediatrics Editorial Board). U.S. Supreme Court Justice William J. Brennan claimed that, “By denying these children a basic education, we deny them the ability to live within the structure of our civic institutions, and foreclose any realistic possibility that they will contribute in even the smallest way to the progress of our Nation” (Pro Con Editorial Board). Children need to be educated; a proper education will benefit both the children and society as a whole.
The law is clear: children of illegal immigrants have the right to social services such as health care and public education. Some claim that providing social services for illegal immigrants is unfair and too expensive. Nevertheless, if someone is living in the U.S., regardless of their immigration status, the United States should do everything it can to grant the benefits that education and health care provide.
- The L.A. Times Editorial Board. “The Birthright Citizenship Debate.” LA Times. N.p., 26 Oct. 2014. Web. 16 Mar. 2017. <http://www.latimes.com/nation/la-ed-birthright-citizenship-20141026-story.html>.
- Library of Congress Home. “14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution: Primary Documents of American History (Virtual Programs & Services, Library of Congress).” The Library of Congress, n.d. Web. 16 Mar. 2017
- The White House. “The Constitution.” The United States Government, 08 Mar. 2017. Web. 16 Mar. 2017.
- Bartleby Editorial Staff. “Children Born in the U.S. to Illegal Immigrants Should Not Become American Citizens.” Bartleby.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 Mar. 2017. <https://www.bartleby.com/essay/Children-Born-in-the-U-S-to-F35YCXYVC>.
- Spalding, Matthew, Ph.D. “Should the Children of Illegal Aliens Be U.S. Citizens?” The Heritage Foundation. N.p., 30 Aug. 2010. Web. 16 Mar. 2017. <http://www.heritage.org/immigration/commentary/should-the-children-illegal-aliens-be-us-citizens>.
- American Academy of Pediatrics Editorial Board. “Providing Care for Immigrant, Migrant, and Border Children.” American Academy of Pediatrics Publications.org. American Academy of Pediatrics, June 2013. Web. 16 Mar. 2017. <http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/early/2013/04/30/peds.2013-1099>.
- American Immigration Council. “Public Education for Immigrant Students: Understanding Plyler v. Doe.” N.p., 24 Oct. 2016. Web. 16 Mar. 2017.
- Lee, Esther Yu Hsi. “Thousands of Undocumented Kids Can Now Enroll in Health Care Coverage.” Think Progress.org. N.p., 17 May 2016. Web. 16 Mar. 2017. <www.thinkprogress.org>.
- Contreras, Raoul Lowery, Contributor. “Yes, Illegal Aliens Have Constitutional Rights.” The Hill. N.p., 29 Sept. 2015. Web. 16 Mar. 2017. <http://thehill.com/blogs/pundits-blog/immigration/255281-yes-illegal-aliens-have-constitutional-rights>.
- Gurbanov, Geysar I. “Obama’s Immigration Plan Offends Legal Immigrants.” Baltimore Sun. N.p., 20 Nov. 2014. Web. 16 Mar. 2017. <http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/opinion/oped/bs-ed-obama-immigration-20141120-story.html>.
- Pro Con Editorial Staff. “Should Immigrants in the United States Illegally Have Access to Social Services Such as Health Care and Public Education?” ProCon.org. N.p., 24 Jan. 2017. Web. 16 Mar. 2017. <http://immigration.procon.org/view.answers.php?questionID=000811>.
- Seaman, Andrew M. “Why All Immigrant Children Should Have Access to Health Care.” Psmag.com. N.p., 24 May 2013. Web. 16 Mar. 2017. <https://psmag.com/why-all-immigrant-children-should-have-access-to-health-care-474a8b575f44#.4sabooik6>.
- “Zadvydas v. Davis 533 U.S. 678 (2001).” Justia Law. N.p., 28 Jun. 2001. Web. 16 Mar. 2017. <supreme.justia.com/cases/federal/us/533/678/case.html.>
- Pro Con Editorial Staff. “Should Immigrants in the United States Illegally Have Access to Constitutional Rights and Protections When on American Soil?” ProCon.org. N.p., 14 Feb. 2008. Web. 16 Mar. 2017. <http://immigration.procon.org/view.answers.php?questionID=000758>.
- National Research Council (US) and Institute of Medicine (US) Committee on the Health and Adjustment of Immigrant Children and Families; Hernandez DJ, editor. Children of immigrants: Health, Adjustment, and Public Assistance. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 1999. “Chapter 3, Access to Health Insurance and Health Care for Children in Immigrant Families” Available from: <https://www.ncbi.nih.gov/books/NBK224446/>.
- Reyes, Raul. “Immigrant Right to Education Reaffirmed: Column.” USA Today. N.p., 12 May 2014. Web. 16 Mar. 2017. <http://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/2014/05/12/raul-reyes-immigrant-education/8971407/>.