The estimated five million child immigrants residing in the United States during the first decade of the twenty-first century have presented unique anomalies for those charged with enforcing immigration laws. Children often become the innocent victims of such laws, especially those who belong to families of undocumented aliens. Although these children frequently have lived much of their lives within the United States, they are often deported as illegals and returned to countries whose languages they do not speak and whose customs they do not know.
The United States is a society built by immigrants who flowed into the country in vast numbers during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Whether these newcomers were fast or slow to adapt to their new surroundings, they all produced children who, as second-generation immigrants, quickly learned the language and customs of their new surroundings. Their assimilation was accelerated by
In many of America’s large cities, tight-knit ethnic communities were formed by those of similar backgrounds. However, by the second or third generations, the structures of most such communities tended to weaken as their younger members became upwardly mobile and entered professions outside their communities, rather than remaining in the ranks of unskilled laborers that they had formerly occupied.
The most crucial step toward assimilation is learning the language of one’s adopted country. In many immigrant families, particularly those from eastern European nations, immigrant parents insisted that only English be spoken in their homes. Consequently, their children tended to gain English fluency quickly.
Many eastern European immigrants arrived at seaports on the East Coast of the United States and settled in such coastal cities as Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and Baltimore. In cities that provided free or inexpensive educations–in some cases, as in New York City, through higher education–the children of immigrants hastened to take full advantage of the educational opportunities available to them. Their assimilation was assured.
Child immigrants can be classified within a number of categories, ranging from infants
Under U.S. law, all children born within the United States or in its territories are automatically U.S. citizens. Their birth certificates are proof of their citizenship, even if they are born while their parents are in the United States illegally. If that is the case, their parents remain viewed as undocumented aliens and are, if apprehended, subject to deportation. The citizenship of children thus has little bearing on the parents’ status as illegals.
Young immigrants at Ellis Island during the early twentieth century. The tags they wear identify the ship on which they arrived.
Child immigrants can be classified variously. American citizens often look to foreign countries when they wish to adopt children. In the past, such children, who were usually babes in arms at the time of their adoption, did not automatically become U.S. citizens. However, if their adoptions were approved by the appropriate federal government authorities, the adopting parents, on proving their willingness and ability to assume the full responsibilities of parenthood, routinely obtained citizenship for the children they adopted or were about to adopt.
U.S. citizens who adopt older children holding foreign citizenship can usually obtain U.S. citizenship for these children if they are under eighteen years of age. However, they must present convincing evidence that they are not adopting merely so the children can obtain citizenship. Such practices have been dubbed “adoptions of convenience,” which are similar to
Stepchildren constitute another category pertaining to child immigration. When American citizens marry spouses whose children are not citizens, they can apply to have their new stepchildren declared U.S. citizens. Stepparents do not necessarily have to adopt their stepchildren to make them eligible for citizenship, but they must demonstrate that they have contributed significantly to the children’s support and upbringing for a minimum period of time if the children are declared to have nonorphan
When children have orphan
Adopting single parents must be twenty-five years of age or older to qualify as petitioners for adoption. However, married people need not meet this age requirement.
In October, 2000, President
Passage of this 2009 bill would eliminate many heartbreaking situations that have afflicted those who entered the United States on immigration visas. Under the old rule, adopted children who have lived virtually their entire lives within the United States could, on being convicted of committing minor juvenile offenses, be
All persons applying for U.S. citizenship, except for very young children, must undergo interviews conducted by the Immigration and Naturalization Service. At these interviews, applicants are fingerprinted and given two tests, one to demonstrate their ability to speak English and the other to demonstrate their knowledge of basic American government and history. Older applicants are occasionally granted exemptions from the language test. Those who pass the tests are immediately informed that they have passed. Those who do not pass one or both tests may apply to retake the tests at a later date.
Children born in foreign countries to U.S. citizens receive American citizenship immediately if both their parents are already citizens. In cases in which only one parent is a citizen, the children must live in the United States for at least five years–two of which must be after the child reaches the age of fourteen. In the latter situation, full citizenship must be applied for, but granting it is routine.
Alvarez, Julia. How the García Girls Lost Their Accents. Chapel Hill, N.C.: Algonquin Books, 1991. Well-written memoir detailing the immigration trials of four sisters fleeing an oppressive regime in the Dominican Republic. Canter, Laurence A., and Martha S. Siegel. U.S. Immigration Made Easy. 10th ed. Berkeley, Calif.: Nolo Press, 2003. Perhaps the most comprehensive quick guide on matters of immigration. An indispensable resource for those seeking accurate information about all aspects of United States immigration. Chapter 6 focuses on child immigration. Hamilton, John. Becoming a Citizen. Edina, Minn.: ABDO Publishing, 2005. Directed at juvenile readers, this volume is lucid in its presentation of such topics as immigrants, eligibility, how to apply for citizenship, and the INS interview process for those seeking American citizenship. Jones, Maldwyn Allen. American Immigration. 2d ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992. Although this source is somewhat dated, it presents a striking history of immigration, touching on the most salient laws that deal with the topic. LeMay, Michael C. Guarding the Gates: Immigration and National Security. Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 2006. Challenging contrastive study of how U.S. immigration policy has moved progressively from an open door policy through what LeMay terms, “door ajar,” “pet door,” “Dutch door,” and “storm door” policies. LeMay, Michael C., and Elliott Robert Barken, eds. U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Laws and Issues: A Documentary History. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1999. Collection of 150 documents dealing with immigration. These primary sources are presented in their entirety. The book has a helpful glossary and a time line of significant dates. Suro, Roberto. Strangers Among Us: Latino Lives in a Changing America. New York: Vintage Books, 1999. Balanced view of immigration by Latin Americans with a cogent chapter, “Branding the Babies,” that deals with young immigrants.
Born in East L.A.
Foreign exchange students
Luce-Celler Bill of 1946