Familiy ties: immigration, deportation and child welfare

Originally posted in Feministing

Many of you might be aware that the recent rates of detention and deportation have been alarmingly high. Many immigrant families are being broken apart. A new report from the Applied Research Center gets into an important question: What happens to the children of parents who are detained or deported? What happens to these families? And most importantly, what’s going on in our name?

A little context, from the report:

In fiscal year 2011, the United States deported a record-breaking 397,000 people and detained nearly that many. According to federal data released to ARC through a Freedom of Information Act request, a growing number and proportion of deportees are parents.

Right now, there are at least 5,100 children currently living in foster care who cannot reunite with their detained or deported parents. Let that number sink in for a moment. And then consider the fact that if nothing changes in our policies and approaches to immigration, that number could jump to 15,000 in the next 5 years.

For a country that spends so much time preaching about the importance of family values, we are ignoring the welfare of THESE children and families. For a nation that holds up its historical identity (accurate or not) as a “nation of immigrants,” we are treating immigrant families with no regard for the rules of our own laws. Our policies are breaking homes apart. Our policies are tearing children from their parents.

And as it turns out this problem is sweeping the country, with cases emerging in 22 states. And if you don’t have an understanding of how horrific this experience can be, watch and listen to the story of Josefina and Clara:


And as we’ve seen time and again, immigrant women who experience domestic violence are at particular risk. They often face incredible burdens in accessing support and resources in the face of domestic violence. Further, immigrant women often face violence at the hands of the police and ICE.  And these same women are also at greater risk of losing their children in the detention and deportation process. The critical takeaway here, as shown in the ARC report, is that most child welfare departments lack systemic policies to keep families united when parents are detained or deported.

The report makes it clear: this is a systemic problem and it requires a systemic solution. Federal, state and local governments must create policies that protect families from separation. They have to get rid of the ones that are unjustly separating parents from children. New policy approaches have to put the family at the center and stop the collusion of child welfare and immigration. Parents should not be separated from their children. If we say that we value families, then we should protect them.

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