Listen to the Children: Conversations With Immigrant Families
Immigration is a complex and divisive social issue in the U.S. Much is debated and argued about undocumented workers and “DREAMers,” that is, the young undocumented high school graduates who are unable to study, work or enroll in the armed forces. It is not often, though, that we hear anything about how the experience of our immigrant population affects their children.
Dr. Elizabeth Conde-Frazier has recently published a book on this issue that is a highly recommended read. A concise book, just 69 pages, Listen to the Children is written for a broad audience and peppered with real-life stories involving children, which firmly anchor her findings in reality. Her book may very well become the primer for immigrant family counseling.
The first part of the book is aimed for immigrant parents, providing them with practical advice about communicating to their children their intention to migrate to a new land, choosing the right caregiver while they are away, reuniting with them in the U.S. and adjusting to a new life in a foreign land.
Through interviews, Dr. Conde-Frazier writes about the experience of undocumented immigrants from the perspective of their children, shedding light upon their psychological and emotional condition. She brings to the table issues that the Body of Christ should be aware of in order to provide support and help to these children and their families as they go through the difficulties of being undocumented immigrants or children of undocumented immigrants.
Teachers, clergy, and social workers can greatly benefit from Dr. Conde-Frazier’s insights and wealth of information. Here are a few noteworthy facts contained in her book:
- There are an estimated 16.5 million children of immigrant parents in our country.
- There are 3 million children who are born U.S. citizens, but whose parents are undocumented immigrants.
- There are an estimated 2 million children who are themselves undocumented immigrants. They came with their parents to the U.S. when they were babies. They grew up in the U.S. and went to school here. This is the only country they know.
- The average income of almost half of all immigrant households is 200 percent below poverty level. This is the case in only 34 percent for U.S.-born households.
- The poverty that immigrants experience is not alleviated by public assistance of any kind. They are not eligible for Medicaid, Temporary Public Assistance (TANF) and food stamps.
- In 1982 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that children in grades K-12 are guaranteed their right to an education regardless of the legal status of their parents. Therefore, no school in the U.S. should require legal documentation from parents before allowing their children to register for classes.
People of faith have not completely ignored the plight of immigrant children. In fact, according to a study conducted by the National Council of La Raza, cited by Dr. Conde-Frazier, churches are often among the first organizations to respond to the immediate needs of immigrant families affected by raids. This shows that, to a degree, Christians are paying attention and respond quickly to families that have experienced separation from one or both parents due to an immigration raid. Dr. Conde-Frazier offers much wisdom and guidance for churches and individuals who are close to these kinds of needs.
Dr. Conde-Frazier ends the book by reminding us “immigrants find themselves in a situation where they need to choose between doing what’s necessary for their families to survive and following laws that deny them the right to survive.” Moreover, “they persevere despite the limitations of their context, and push back against language and laws that deem them as non-persons or persons unworthy of equal status. They create strategies of survival, insisting that their ‘human rights’ and the injustices existing in the two countries gives them a right to disrupt the orderly classifications produced by the state. They push us all toward a status of dignity and justice.”
We must side with those whose dignity and justice is put in doubt by any person or political system and echo the heart of our Lord Jesus Christ, who once said “if any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones…it would be better for you if a great millstone were fastened around your neck and you were drowned in the depth of the sea.” Listen to the Children challenges us to do everything we can in the power of the Holy Spirit to care for our immigrants and alleviate the suffering of the most innocent and vulnerable ones among them: the children.