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Currently, there are an estimated 5,000 U.S citizen children lingering in foster care due to the detainment or deportation of their parents.
Deportation policy in the US is supposed to focus on “violent offenders and people convicted of crimes; not families, not folks who are just looking to scrape together an income.” A New York Times op-ed from over the weekend, however, illustrates how often this is not the case:
From January to June 2011, Immigration and Customs Enforcement removed 46,486 undocumented parents who claimed to have at least one child who is an American citizen.
In contrast, in the entire decade between 1998 and 2007, about 100,000 such parents were removed. The extraordinary acceleration in the dismantling of these families, part of the government’s efforts to meet an annual quota of about 400,000 deportations, has had devastating results.
Research by the Urban Institute and others reveals the deep and irreversible harm that parental deportation causes in the lives of their children. Having a parent ripped away permanently, without warning, is one of the most devastating and traumatic experiences in human development.
These children experience immediate household crises, starting with the loss of parental income. The harsh new economic reality causes housing and food insecurity. In response to psychological and economic disruptions, children show increased anxiety, frequent crying, changes in eating and sleeping patterns, withdrawal and anger.
In the long run, the children of deportation face increased odds of lasting economic turmoil, psychic scarring, reduced school attainment, greater difficulty in maintaining relationships, social exclusion and lower earnings. The research also exposes major misconceptions about these parents.
First, statistics about those who were deported in 2011 show that 45 percent were not apprehended for any criminal offense. Those who were, were usually arrested for relatively minor offenses, not violent crimes…
Finally, our studies in New York City and elsewhere show that these parents are extremely dedicated to their children’s well-being and development. Undocumented parents typically work 12 hours a day, 6 days a week, at the lowest of wages. Deporting them worsens the already precarious lot of their children.
The op-ed goes on to profile Sara Martinez, one example of the all-too-many immigrants who shouldn’t be detained but are. Martinez is an immigrant from Ecuador who has a US-citizen daughter, has learned English, has never broken a law, and has always paid her taxes. She was arrested in January 2011 when border patrol agents boarded a bus she was traveling on in Rochester (with her daughter) and asked her for identification. She’s applied for prosecutorial discretion three times and been denied without explanation, though she clearly meets the deportation guidelines of a person who does not deserve to be deported. And though her cases is still pending, and Martinez is now back with her daughter at home, the six-year-old girl now suffers from nightmares, has trouble sleeping and eating, and constantly fears the “police” will come take away her mother for good.
As the Times writes, “The United States should not be in the business of causing untold hardship by separating children from the love and care of their hard-working parents.”