November 9, 2007

Commentary:

Immigration Raids Leave American Children Behind

By Maribel Hastings
La Opinión

WASHINGTON, D.C. — For every two adults detained in immigration raids, a child is left behind. Two thirds of these children are U.S. citizens, more than a third are under six years old, and nearly two thirds are under 11, according to a study by the National Council of La Raza (NCLR) and the Urban Institute. The report, “Paying the Price: The Impact of Immigration Raids on America’s Children,” is the first to analyze the issue. The authors of the study called on Congress to hold hearings on the experience of children who have been affected by raids.

More than five million children in the United States, three million of whom are U.S. citizens, are at risk of being separated from their parents as a result of raids. These children have at least one parent who is undocumented, and many have already been separated from their families.

Children face short- and long-term psychological damage when they are separated from one or both parents. This can include depression, post-traumatic stress, anxiety, feelings of abandonment, and suicidal thoughts. Raids also have an economic effect on families and make it harder for children to concentrate in school.

Support networks such as families, churches, schools and non-governmental organizations have also been affected by the raids, which have increased in the absence of comprehensive immigration reform.

“All these kids are at risk because raids are becoming a more common and important tool in the federal government’s arsenal” to implement immigration laws, said Randy Capps, demographer for the Urban Institute and co-author of the report.

The study analyzes the effects of raids in three communities: Greeley, Colo., Grand Island, Neb., and New Bedford, Mass.

In these cities, a total of 912 adults were arrested, affecting some 506 children. This year alone, explained Capps, more than 4,000 people have been detained in immigration raids.

Capps told La Opinión that researchers don’t know how many American children have had to leave the United States to reunite with their deported parents. “But it’s something we will be looking into,” he said.

Janet Murguía, president and CEO of NCLR, hopes the report leads to more studies on a situation that she said affects “the most vulnerable members of our society.” She urged Congress and the government to “separate themselves from the emotions dominating the immigration debate” and find a way to implement laws that guarantee the protection of children.

The report calls on Congress to allocate funds for those who provide support for children after a raid, and for schools and other public agencies to develop response plans. Families should also have their own emergency preparedness plans to decide who will be responsible for the children in case their parents are detained, and have their children’s papers easily accessible, especially if they are U.S. citizens.

According to the report, the experience of detainees varies: some were deported between 24 and 48 hours after the raid (the majority of these were Mexican); others spent up to six months in detention; and large numbers of detainees were transferred to centers out of state. Those who identified themselves as solely responsible for their children or relatives paid fines to the Office of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The minimum fine is $1,500 dollars, but according to the report, “some interviewees said they paid much more, up to $10,000 in some cases.”

An estimated 10 percent of detainees face criminal charges, primarily for the use of false documents.

Rosa Maria Castaneda, a researcher at the Urban Institute, explained that on the day of the raids, immigration authorities were not sensitive to parents’ and children’s needs. Many parents didn’t even tell authorities they had children for fear that the state would take custody of them. They weren’t allowed to make phone calls, “even from their own cells,” to let their children know they had been arrested.

“In the three places [studied], the kids spent at least a day without a parent,” said Castaneda, who added that immediate family members, schools, nannies, and even landlords took over care of the children.

Some families of detainees remained hidden for weeks in basements or closets for fear of immigration authorities.

But the aftermath of raids doesn’t only affect children psychologically. At an economical level, each household affected stops receiving one or more salaries. The informal support networks that act as first responders in an emergency are also affected.

Family members who assumed responsibility for the children ran out of money almost immediately. Out of fear of being deported themselves, they did not seek out services that the children are entitled to as U.S citizens.

The congressional bill “Families First,” written by Rep. Hilda Solis, D-Calif., and Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., calls on immigration authorities to implement more humanitarian policies in the arrests, detentions and processing of the undocumented in the course of worksite raids – especially when the lives of children are at stake.

Translated by Elena Shore, New America Media.

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