By Mary Moreno
What had been suspected based on anecdotal evidence was proven by a study released Wednesday: the massive wave of deportations is separating families and relegating thousands of children to foster care.
The Applied Research Center spent a year researching the effects of immigration enforcement on families and the complications the system imposes on family reunification. ARC found that in the first six months of this year, the federal government removed more than 46,000 mothers and fathers of U.S.-born children. As a consequence, at least 5,100 children of deported immigrants are currently living in foster care.
The report tells harrowing stories of working mothers being picked up by immigration agents and having their children sent to foster care without being given the chance to find alternative care. ICE then complicates reunification by sending detainees to far-flung detention centers. Meanwhile, the children languish in foster care and impatient courts sometimes act to terminate parental rights that go uncontested by detained parents who are unable to fight back.
The practice of separating children from their parents and making reunification difficult goes against policies and practices that favor parents and resort to separation as a last resort to protect the children. But in the cases of immigrants, ARC found that the parents were perfectly capable of caring for their children but the practices of local and federal governments work against reunification.
"Our research found time and again that families are being left out of decision-making when it comes to the care and custody of their children," said Seth Freed Wessler, author and principal investigator of Shattered Families. "As a result, children of detained and deported parents are likely to remain in foster care when they could be with their own family."
ARC also found that the removal of many children began with the mother calling police for help in domestic abuse cases. ARC concluded, "many immigrant victims face an impossible choice: remain with an abuser or risk detention and the loss of their children."
And ARC warns that unless policy changes are instituted, at least 15,000 more children will be separated from their parents.
"Immigration enforcement greatly increases the chances that families will never see each other again," said ARC president Rinku Sen. "Detaining and deporting parents shatter families and endanger the children left behind. It's unacceptable, un-American, and a clear sign that we need to revisit our immigration policies."
The report can be found here: http://arc.org/shatteredfamilies
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Mary Moreno is the communications director at Voto Latino. Before joining VL, she worked as a crime reporter for five newspapers and as a press secretary for two DC nonprofits. The daughter of Mexican immigrants, she's a proud Texan who currently lives in DC. For other posts by Mary Moreno, click here.