November 21, 2007

Commentary:

Children suffer effects from deportation raids

By Yolanda Chávez Leyva

Kids suffer tremendously due to deportation raids.

The children of parents arrested in immigration raids have to cope with serious health issues such as depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and separation anxiety, says a recent report released by the Urban Institute and the National Council of La Raza. The report, “Paying the Price: The Impact of Immigration Raids on America’s Children,” comes in the wake of recent deportation raids on workplaces in Colorado, Nebraska and Massachusetts and a record number of workplace deportations.

Researchers found that the great majority of children affected by the raids are U.S. citizens. Approximately two-thirds of children of undocumented immigrants are U.S. born. They are also strikingly young, the majority being 10 years and younger. The investigators also found that the raids affected one child for every two immigrants arrested. The report has implications for the numerous U.S. citizen children who have one or two undocumented parents. More than 3 million parents in this country are undocumented, according to the Pew Hispanic Center.

In the aftermath of the raids, children experienced instability and growing isolation, fear, and psychological effects such as depression. Many immigrant families were afraid to seek help for their children, fearing they would be arrested.

And the long-term consequences caused by the raids were many. In the weeks following the raids, some parents were deported, disrupting families. Parents who were arrested used up whatever small saving they had since they could not work. Family members and friends who had taken over childcare responsibilities found it increasingly difficult, as well. Fear of further arrests caused increased isolation among immigrant families.

There were several other detrimental effects, too. Children went home after school to empty houses. Kids did not know where their parents were because the detained had limited access to phones. Physical needs, such as food, diapers, and formula, were difficult to obtain following the arrest of their working parent.

The report concludes with a number of recommendations regarding children and their protection. Among these is the suggestion that Immigration Customs and Enforcement should always assume that workplace raids will affect children and act accordingly.

Those who advocate tough immigration policies say that it is not immigration policy and enforcement that is responsible for the plight of the children but rather their parents. Yet, ironically, people come to this country, as they have throughout our history, to create a better life for their children.

There is also the argument that the United States is a land of laws. But laws themselves are not above ethical concerns. Throughout our history, the legal system has excluded from protection large numbers of people because of their race or gender. Laws made women the property of their fathers and husbands; laws protected the enslavement of African-Americans. We must look beyond laws to ensure that we as a society are acting morally.

U.S. society has deeply held values that children are important and that children must be protected since they are the most vulnerable among us. Dependent physically and emotionally upon their parents, children have no voice in the choices made by their parents. As Americans, it is incumbent upon us to back up our ideals with actions.

Yolanda Chávez Leyva is a historian specializing in border and Mexican-American history. Repinted from The Progressive magazine. She can be reached at pmproj@progressive.org.

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