We know that deportations can have a destructive impact on immigrant families. A new report from the Applied Research Center, Shattered Families: The Perilous Intersection of Immigration Enforcement and the Child Welfare System, found that over 5,000 children of deported parents are now stuck in the foster care system.
At Colorlines, Seth Freed Wessler provides an overview:
In a yearlong investigation, the Applied Research Center, which publishes Colorlines.com, found that at least 5,100 children whose parents are detained or deported are currently in foster care around the United States. That number represents a conservative estimate of the total, based on extensive surveys of child welfare case workers and attorneys and analysis of national immigration and child welfare trends. Many of the kids may never see their parents again.
These children, many of whom should never have been separated from their parents in the first place, face often insurmountable obstacles to reunifying with their mothers and fathers. Though child welfare departments are required by federal law to reunify children with any parents who are able to provide for the basic safety of their children, detention makes this all but impossible. Then, once parents are deported, families are often separated for long periods. Ultimately, child welfare departments and juvenile courts too often move to terminate the parental rights of deportees and put children up for adoption, rather than attempt to unify the family as they would in other circumstances.
Wessler provides several examples of families that have been ripped apart. They are gut-wrenching, and the Secure Communities Program plays a role in this problem:
Local immigration enforcement is metastasizing through initiatives like the 287(g) agreements and, most significantly, through a controversial program called Secure Communities, which allows ICE access to data on every person booked into a county jail. As the federal government shifts its deportation tactics away from high-profile workplace raids and toward enforcement that’s silently tied to the day-to-day functions of local police departments, a growing number of long-time residents with families and deep ties to the U.S. are deported. The program is turning jurisdictions around the country into deportation hotspots. We have identified at least 22 states where children in foster care face barriers to reunifying with their detained or deported mothers and fathers.
Whatever the state of the debate, or rancor, over who should and should not be allowed to live in the U.S., the moral and bureaucratic fallout of deporting 400,000 people a year are accumulating to toxic levels. Child welfare caseworkers say that in the face of an opaque detention system, they are helpless to reunify families. And although federal law requires child welfare departments to make diligent efforts toward family reunification, when parents are detained that’s basically impossible.
The report provides a window into yet another problem with our broken immigration system. As Nancy Pelosi once said, “Taking parents from their children … that’s un-American.”