Parenting, as any mother or father will readily admit, is a tough job. In Flint, Mich., however, that job has become a whole lot tougher since the city’s water supply was poisoned.

If I lived in Flint, I’d have to cook with bottled water, bathe my two daughters in bottled water, and scramble to get them to countless lead-testing and medical appointments. Even worse, I’d be worried sick about whether my girls will suffer permanent developmental delays from drinking the toxic water. 

If I were an undocumented immigrant parent in Flint, raising my family would be tougher still.  I’d have to ask, whenever there is a knock on the door, whether it is lead line inspectors coming to test my water or immigration agents coming to deport me. I’d have to ask whether immigration officials will have access to my children’s medical records if I take them to a clinic for a check-up. I’d have to ask whether it’s safe to drive across town to a water-distribution center without being pulled over by immigration agents.  I’d have to choose between the risk of deportation and the health of my poisoned children.

Immigrant families are among the hardest hit by the water crisis. The state initially didn’t make public-health information available in languages other than English. And water-distribution centers turned away people who didn’t have ID – which you can’t get in Michigan if you’re undocumented.  As a result, immigrant families drank from, cooked with and bathed in the contaminated water even after the state finally admitted it was unsafe. 

Yesterday, a coalition of 63 children’s health, public-health and immigration-advocacy organizations – including the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Child Welfare League of America – called on the federal government to suspend all immigration enforcement activities in Flint and allow immigrant families victimized by the water crisis to stay in America so that they can get the health and educational services they will need. It’s a long letter, but the basic point is simple:  the government should not poison children and then deport them or their families.  

Read the letter from the ACLU of Michigan and others calling for deportation relief for Flint immigrants

Lead is a potent, irreversible neurotoxin that has, according to public health experts, “lifelong and damning consequences,” including lowering IQ and affecting cognition and behavior. Flint children who have been poisoned will need health monitoring and educational services for years to come. They are not likely to get those services if they’re deported. 

Moreover, many children in immigrant families are U.S. citizens. In fact, a third of U.S. citizen children of immigrants live in mixed-status families, with at least one undocumented immigrant family member. Those children live in constant fear that they could be separated at any moment from an undocumented parent.   

When the government allowed contaminated water to flow through the taps in Flint, it poisoned citizens and non-citizen children alike. Let’s not deport poisoned kids. And let’s not deport their parents. Those kids will need their parents now more than ever—and those mothers and fathers have it tough enough already.