As Barack Obama’s administration and its U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) men boast record-breaking rates of deportations across the United States, a groundbreaking new report has revealed just how impactful the actions are on children and immigrant families.
According to the Applied Research Center (ARC), a New York City-based racial justice think tank, more than 5,000 children are living in foster care systems across 22 states because their parents are either in detention centers or have been deported.
The report, titled “Shattered Families,” offers national research on the perilous intersection of immigration enforcement and the child welfare system. ARC researchers also project that at least 15,000 more children will face the same threat to reunification in the next five years if the deportation rate holds.
In many cases, these United States-born children may never see their parents again and will be permanently separated from their families. Of the almost 400,000 migrants deported in fiscal year 2011 alone, more than 46,000 were mothers and fathers.
Among them are the Mexican migrant “Josefina,” the mother of a 1-year-old baby, and “Clara,” also a Mexican migrant and the mother of a 6-year-old. Both children were placed in foster homes with strangers.
Clara and Josefina, sisters in their early 30s who lived together in a small New Mexico town, had done nothing to harm their children or to elicit the attention of the child welfare department.
But in the late summer of 2010, a team of federal immigration agents arrived at the front door of Clara and Josefina’s trailer home. The ICE agents said they had received a false tip that the sisters, who were undocumented immigrants, had drugs in their home. Though they found nothing incriminating in the trailer and the sisters had no criminal record, ICE called Child Protective Services to take custody of the children while ICE detained the sisters because of their immigration status.
For the four months that ICE detained them, Josefina and Clara had no idea where their children were. In December, the sisters were deported and their children remain in foster care.
“Our research found time and again that families are being left out of decision making when it comes to the care and custody of their children,” said Seth Freed Wessler, author and principal investigator of “Shattered Families.” “As a result, children of detained and deported parents are likely to remain in foster care, when they could be with their own families.”
ARC says the rise in deportation is ripping families apart, leaving the children of immigrants not only in extended periods in the child welfare system but facing the prospect of losing their parents forever.
“Immigration enforcement greatly increases the chances that families will never see each other again,” said ARC President Rinku Sen. “Detaining and deporting parents shatters families and endanger the children left behind. It’s unacceptable, un-American and a clear sign that we need to revisit our immigration policies.”
The Obama White House has shown a remarkable lack of action on immigration reform despite many promises over the past years. As we gear up for the 2012 presidential election, we can only hope that the president, the son of an immigrant father, will show more sensitivity to the U.S.-born children of immigrants shattered by the deportation of their parents and forced to live with the pain of never seeing their mom or dad again.
The writer is founder of NewsAmericasNow, CaribPR Wire and Hard Beat Communications.