Children of Utah’s immigration crackdown

By Michelle Chen Jul 07, 2009

Utah’s latest effort to clamp down on illegal immigration is hitting community-based child care providers on two fronts—undermining the businesses of immigrant care providers, and hurting the children of the low-income communities they serve. The state is rolling out a new law requiring in-home childcare providers to show proof of immigration status, on top of passing the normal background and safety checks. Critics say the rule could needlessly cause many immigrant childcare providers to lose their licenses and jobs, while pushing families to seek out less-regulated care. Standards in child care are, of course, crucial: they ensure that your kid won’t be kept in unsafe, unhealthy or overcrowded conditions. The Applied Research Center’s April report on subsidized child care centers found that different state policies span the spectrum of neglect: states like Alabama have lax licensing policies that exempt some child care centers, creating a two-tier system that drives poor families into unregulated care. States like California have fairly good licensing standards, but a threadbare oversight system, which “render such standards essentially meaningless and place children’s health and safety at risk.” And perhaps most painfully, Maryland stands out for its solid oversight and standards, but fails to provide adequate subsidies for poor families. With families living in poverty sinking around a quarter of their income into child care, low-income parents across the country, who rely on child care to maintain work, are priced out of quality services. There are about 1,300 in-home care providers in Utah, reports the Salt Lake Tribune. Statewide, a little over half of subsidized children are cared for in licensed settings, according to the National Association of Child Care Resource & Referral Agencies. The rest receive “non-regulated care,” mainly by relatives. Welfare reform in the 1990s helped expand child care programs and funding, but today, various barriers, including lack of knowledge of the system and limited English proficiency, has kept welfare-dependent households from accessing these benefits. At the same time, many states are still failing to keep up with demand, rationing services through long waiting lists. Immigrant child care providers are a critical safe harbor for many families who would otherwise be alienated from social services. According to a policy brief on immigrant families by the Center on Law and Social Policy, households with limited English proficiency (LEP) are far less likely than others to receive financial support for child care:

These parents have misconceptions related to eligibility for subsidies and the application process. Immigrant and LEP families face many barriers in accessing child care and early education for their young children, and many child care programs, subsidy agencies, and resource and referral agencies are inadequately prepared to meet the unique needs of English Language Learners and immigrant families.

Within this context of an underresourced and segregated national system, Utah’s crackdown on undocumented immigrants threatens to throw off a critical balance between quality and accessibility. And in the end, critics say the policy will be a step backward for public health and safety. Encarni Gallardo of the metro office of Child Care Resource and Referral told the Salt Lake Tribune, “When we face a situation like this, our concerns are that providers will just go underground." Meanwhile, some child care providers may simply forfeit their licenses due to fear of immigration authorities. Should the ability to provide affordable and nurturing care for poor children hinge on immigration status? Try asking a four year-old if she cares whether her daycare teacher has papers. Image: Children’s Service Society of Utah