Child casualties of immigration enforcement

Carolyn Moynihan
6 May 2010
Reproduced with Permission

In stepping up control of immigration American states are putting millions of children at risk of being separated from their parents and entering the US child welfare system -- perhaps permanently, according to a Washington DC advocacy group. This is something to weigh seriously in the intensifying debate over illegal immigrants.

In a report released last month, First Focus estimates that "over 5 million children in the United States with at least one undocumented parent are at risk of unnecessarily entering the child welfare system when a parent is detained or deported." A large majority would be citizens by birth.

The report, by Truthout, says:

When a child enters the child welfare system, immigrant parents face huge obstacles in reuniting with the child. For example, if a parent is detained or deported, they cannot take part in child welfare proceedings like family court or case plan requirements, which creates the risk of permanent, unnecessary separation of the child from their parents.

The group says it is not only the undocumented who are at risk; "thousands of lawful permanent residents" have been deported in clampdowns. One government study estimates that, over a ten year period, 108,000 parents with US citizen children were deported.

The possibility of a convergence between immigration, criminal justice and child welfare institutions could rope family members into "a Kafka-esque bureaucratic limbo where advocating for their families could be punished by deportation," Truthout comments. The net result could leave all immigrant families alienated from the social service system and unwilling to report even severe child abuse.

I guess many will say that illegal immigrants should have thought of the consequences before they had children in the US, or even before they crossed the border. And I have to admit that I don't understand the dynamics of, say, Mexican immigration -- other than that poverty still seems rife in that country and people will do whatever they can to get a better life.

However, the separation of children from parents on an indefinite basis is surely inhumane and should be addressed urgently. First Focus has a list of recommendations.