An article in “Yearning to Breathe Free,” the newsletter of the First Friends of NJ & NY Corp. “IRATE & First Friends”, points out that in the first six months of 2011, 46,486 parents of U.S.-citizens children were deported. It also quotes the Applied Research Center (ARC) as estimating that about 5,100 children with detained or deported parents were in the public child welfare system in 2011. Over the next five years, ARC estimates that an additional 15,000 children in the child welfare system could be at risk of permanent separation from a detained or deported parent.
These horrific statistics arise for several reasons. The changes in U.S. immigration law in 1996 made it impossible for immigration judges to consider the harm that might be caused to a U.S.-citizen child by the removal of his or her parent or parents. The parents are often removed suddenly, and may not be able to make any arrangements for their children while they are being held behind bars. Further, a judge or caseworker could determine that a child who ends up in the child welfare system should be placed for adoption, rather than reunited with a deported parent or a responsible relative.
Congress must reinstate judicial discretion and eliminate “mandatory detention” laws as they relate to parents. We must remember that the ICE practices that scoop up parents indiscriminately are heavily influenced by the motivation of private correctional corporations to keep their profitable institutions filled.
We are all complicit in these abuses of children if we do not speak out against them, and insist that our lawmakers listen–and act.