11/22/2011 01:49 pm ET | Updated Jan 22, 2012

Children Pay for Crack Down on Illegal Immigrants

In recent years Americans have engaged in fervent debate about our national policies on illegal immigration. We worry about lost jobs, crime, and the cost of illegal immigration nationally and in local communities. We argue about whether immigration should be addressed federally and whether the hardnosed policies of states like Arizona and Alabama have it all right or are dead wrong. Whether we decry illegal immigration or unsafe and exploitative employment, many of us applaud when a raid shuts down a worksite that employs illegal immigrants. But seldom, if ever, do we talk about what happens to the children of illegal immigrants -- children who have broken no laws, who come home from school to find their parents gone. Seldom do we stop to imagine what it might feel like if our children had to worry -- even for a moment -- whether they will ever see us again.

Across the country more and more child welfare agencies are responding to urgent last minute calls to find a place for a child to sleep... a foster home or shelter that can provide care to children of illegal immigrants because their parents are gone. In fact, the Applied Research Center estimates that 5,100 children are now living in foster care because their parents have been detained or deported. Parents who love their children and who, for the most part, have done a good job of caring for them. Yet, our immigration policies do little to reduce the trauma of emergency placement and ensure that these kids stay connected to parents and relatives.

In child welfare, we know that when caring capable parents are in the picture kids simply have better outcomes. If our current immigration policies don't adequately reflect the importance of engaging these families, strengthening their ability to effectively plan for their children, even when separated, then we need to make a philosophical and practical shift in the way we work.

The Obama administration has the power to lead not only the discussion, but also to immediately order the review of current policies/protocols, to have such a review completed within 60 days, and to present balanced, centered, and appropriate recommendations for changes. Timing is critical, as every day, more and more families who are here illegally are being separated from their children and put into systems that have proven that they too often exacerbate the problems children face. Perhaps it's time we put these and all children at the forefront of the debate.