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Faith Leaders, Pelosi Agree: End an American Tragedy, Stop Separating Families

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In today’s New York Times, Nina Bernstein reports on the tragic consequences the broken immigration system has had on one American family:

In July 2006, when Mrs. Encalada (a native-born citizen) was pregnant with their third daughter and immigration crackdowns were sweeping the country, her husband was ordered by immigration authorities to take “voluntary departure” back to Ecuador.

They thought of hiding, she says, but chose to follow the rules, accepting the wrenching separation that has become the only path to a legal family life for hundreds of thousands of such couples. Under laws affecting those who married after April 2001, foreign spouses who entered without a visa must leave and seek one from a United States Consulate in their native land.

Their lawyer said that would take two months to a year. Instead, one year turned into three; Mrs. Encalada lost their apartment, and her son was hospitalized for depression at age 8. In July, after she flew to Ecuador for a joint interview at the United States Consulate in Guyaquil, officials there rejected the couple’s application with a form letter saying they had “a marriage of convenience.”

Mrs. Encalada, 32, wrote the White House, the State Department and Congressional offices to plead for help. When most did not respond, she found a new lawyer and started over. But her husband, 28, apparently lost hope. On Dec. 15, facing another Christmas far from his family, he drank poison.

While the Encaladas’ story is exceptionally horrifying, they are not alone in facing the trauma of a deported parent. An Urban Institute study (PDF) released earlier this month estimated that 100,000 parents of U.S. citizen children have been deported in the last 10 years. Among the families the report studied in depth, these children clearly suffered from trauma, both immediately after their parents were deported and in the long run:

(A)bout two-thirds of children experienced changes in eating and sleeping habits. More than half of children in our study cried more often and were more afraid, and more than a third were more anxious, withdrawn, clingy, angry, or aggressive.