UCLA Research Finds U.S. Lags Behind Other Nations in Limiting Detention of Migrant Children

The COVID-19 pandemic has amplified calls to end the detention of migrant children, as cases surge among children held in crowded conditions. Yet immigration detention’s threats to the fundamental rights of children did not begin with the current public health crisis. Unlike nearly three-quarters of high-income countries, the U.S. has no laws specifically limiting the detention of accompanied migrant and asylum-seeking children, according to a new study by the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health’s WORLD Policy Analysis Center (WORLD). Moreover, the U.S. offers minimal legal protection for unaccompanied minors, and for children who are detained, and the U.S. has no legal guarantees of access to adequate health care or education. “The U.S. lags behind when it comes to protecting the most fundamental rights of migrant children,” said Jody Heymann, a UCLA distinguished professor of public health, public policy and medicine who serves as director of WORLD. International treaties are clear that detaining children based on citizenship is a violation of human rights law. Heymann and her research team systematically coded legal restrictions on detention of child migrants in the 150 most populous United Nations-member countries, as well as literature on the costs and benefits of varying approaches to keeping such children safe and under responsible oversight. Their study, published in the International Journal of Human Rights, found that while the U.S. falls behind other high-income nations, gaps in legal protections persist across the board. “These longstanding gaps in the law have left countless children vulnerable to grave health risks and human rights violations,” Heymann said.


Now Rescinded, Trump-Era ‘Public Charge’ Policy May Still Harm Immigrants’ Health

The Trump administration’s expansion of the “public charge” rule — a move that sought to disqualify immigrants who used social programs like Medicaid from obtaining legal residency in the U.S. — led to widespread disenrollment from these programs and left scores of children in California without access to health care in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. What’s more, say the authors of a new report from the UCLA Latino Policy and Politics Initiative, the fear and confusion that the now-rescinded Trump-era policy sowed in the state will likely have a chilling long-term effect. The researchers’ analysis determined that the number of Latino children of immigrant parents who do not have a usual source of medical care could increase from the current level of just over 64,000 to more than 180,000 as parents avoid enrolling or disenroll their children from non-cash public assistance programs out of fear of jeopardizing their immigration status. Additionally, the researchers say, the number who have not seen a doctor within the previous 12 months could eventually jump from approximately 99,000 to almost 240,000. The public health consequences are likely to extend to U.S.-born children, who are already citizens but whose immigrant parents may fear that enrolling them in public assistance programs might limit their own path to a “green card,” or lawful permanent residency, the authors say. The report indicated that immigrant communities in Los Angeles County have been more acutely impacted by the complex and often confusing changes to immigration policies than those in any other region in the state.


Zepeda-Millán Finds Public Support for Releasing Child Detainees

Associate Professor of Public Policy Chris Zepeda-Millán was featured in a Conversations with Changemakers interview about public opinions surrounding the current administration’s immigrant detention policies. He explained that “even before the COVID-19 pandemic occurred, jails, prisons and detention centers already had pretty bad conditions,” including poor sanitation, cold temperatures, inadequate medical care and dangerous overcrowding. Zepeda-Millán suspects an undercount in COVID-19 cases in detention centers, noting that only 1% of detainees had been tested but 60% of those tested positive for the virus. Before the pandemic started, one survey found that the public overwhelmingly rejected detaining children and preferred releasing immigrant children to family members or sponsors instead. Conditions have only worsened since the pandemic started, Zepeda-Millán said, and the public may be even more in favor of releasing detainees now that they know how the pandemic is spreading among incarcerated populations.

De León’s Political Awakening Inspired by Prop. 187

In a Sacramento Bee opinion piece, policymaker-in-residence and senior analyst Kevin de León wrote that Proposition 187 led to the political awakening of a generation of Latino leaders in California. Passed in 1994, Prop. 187 made undocumented immigrants in the state ineligible for public benefits, including access to public schools and non-emergency healthcare. As the son of a single immigrant mother, de León recalled the feeling of betrayal across the state when the proposition was passed. He helped organize a massive protest march in Boyle Heights before going on to join the State Assembly and then the California Senate. “If it were not for Prop. 187, most of us would never have thought about running for office,” de León said. Prop. 187 was eventually found to be unconstitutional by a federal district court. Twenty-five years after the protests, de León wrote, “California must continue to be a beacon of hope and opportunity in an uncertain world.”

Americans Reject Criminalization of Humanitarian Aid, Zepeda-Millán Finds

An Intercept article about the upcoming retrial of Scott Warren, a volunteer with the migrant advocacy group No More Deaths, cited the findings of a national survey conducted by Associate Professor of Public Policy Chris Zepeda-Millán and Sophia Jordán Wallace. Warren was indicted on felony harboring and conspiracy charges for giving two undocumented migrants food, water and a place to sleep for three days after they made a dangerous trek across the Sonoran Desert. The survey found that Americans of diverse political affiliations overwhelmingly reject the notion that providing lifesaving care to people in the desert should be criminalized. Strong, bipartisan consensus on immigration-related policy is rare in the era of President Trump, Zepeda-Millán said. “At the moment of life and death that migrants in the desert often find themselves in, Republicans seem to be willing to throw undocumented migrants at least a momentary lifesaver,” he said, but added, “That’s a pretty low bar.”

Armenta on Dignity and the Immigration Debate

Amada Armenta, assistant professor of urban planning, penned a post on the role of dignity in the immigration debate for Oxford University’s Border Criminologies blog. “Decriminalizing immigration offenses and creating a path to a legal and permanent immigration status would allow millions of immigrants to live more dignified lives,” Armenta wrote. But she cautioned that deploying arguments that rely on immigrants’ dignity may actually be counterproductive.  “To combat stereotypes about immigrants’ criminality, we rely on tropes that highlight immigrants’ best qualities — they work hard, they provide for their families, and they do not commit ‘real’ crimes,” she wrote. “However, in our attempts to legitimize immigrants, to convince people that they ‘deserve’ policies that would be less harmful, we inevitably leave people out. We may champion the most ‘worthy’ and exceptional immigrants at the expense of those for whom it is more difficult to advocate, such as those with criminal convictions or prior deportation orders.”

Outdated Immigration Laws Harm Women, Akee Writes

Associate Professor of Public Policy Randall Akee wrote an op-ed for the Brookings Institution in which he argued that outdated immigration policies increase violence toward immigrant women and children. New research found that increased immigration enforcement has reduced the number of self-petitions for legal permanent residency. Akee argued that this essentially means that abused immigrant women and children have stopped seeking legal permanent resident status under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) as immigration enforcement has intensified. “In effect, victims of domestic violence are fearful of speaking up or seeking relief from their abusers; they are condemned to endure their abuse for fear of deportation or detention under increased immigration enforcement activities in the U.S.,” he said. Akee is currently a David M. Rubenstein fellow with the economic studies program at Brookings.


Segura Responds to Trump’s Decision to Cut Foreign Aid

Gary Segura, dean of the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs and an expert in polling and public opinion, was quoted in a Pacific Standard article dissecting President Trump’s announcement to cancel foreign aid to El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala. Trump has made multiple threats in the past to cut off the three Central American countries due to his dissatisfaction with their respective governments’ failures to stop people from leaving. After his recent announcement that funds would be withheld from the three nations, experts objected, explaining that the funds help combat crime and violence, ultimately serving U.S. interests. Segura maintained that ulterior motives were behind the policy decision, which would fuel the asylum crisis. He tweeted, “Pay attention folks. This is an INTENTIONAL act to drive MORE asylum seekers to the U.S. border to help [Trump] maintain his crisis. It’s ugly, devastating in impact, and bad policy.”


Immigration Reform for the 21st Century

Join the UCLA Latino Policy and Politics Initiative for a conversation with congressional leaders and migration policy experts focusing on the challenges and opportunities ahead with implementing comprehensive immigration reform.

From the U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021 to standalone bills in Congress, conversations about immigration cannot be divorced from the essential role of immigrants in COVID-19 relief and recovery. Undocumented immigrants are central to the success of the nation, yet they are excluded from critical economic, political and civic opportunities. This not only impacts their lives but hinders progress for the country as we seek to overcome a global pandemic.

LPPI will convene a diverse set of voices to address two fundamental questions: What should 21st century immigration reform look like and what are the challenges and opportunities to pass a package that doesn’t leave anyone behind?

The webinar will be moderated by Russell Conteras, Axios race and justice reporter, and feature these panelists:

  • Joaquin Castro, United States Representative, TX-20
  • Andrew Selee, President of the Migration Policy Institute
  • Dr. Cecilia Menjívar, Dorothy Meier Chair in Social Equities and Professor of Sociology at UCLA
  • Angélica Salas, Executive Director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights, Los Angeles
  • Linda Sánchez, United States Representative, CA-38 (Invited)
  • Rob Bonta, California Attorney General (Invited)