Parent Advocates
Search All  
Deporting Parents Hurts Kids
LAST May, President Obama told an audience in El Paso that deportation of immigrants would focus on “violent offenders and people convicted of crimes; not families, not folks who are just looking to scrape together an income.” Two weeks ago, however, the Department of Homeland Security released a report that flatly belies the new policy. From January to June 2011, Immigration and Customs Enforcement removed 46,486 undocumented parents who claimed to have at least one child who is an American citizen.
April 20, 2012
Deporting Parents Hurts Kids

LAST May, President Obama told an audience in El Paso that deportation of immigrants would focus on “violent offenders and people convicted of crimes; not families, not folks who are just looking to scrape together an income.”

Two weeks ago, however, the Department of Homeland Security released a report that flatly belies the new policy. From January to June 2011, Immigration and Customs Enforcement removed 46,486 undocumented parents who claimed to have at least one child who is an American citizen.

In contrast, in the entire decade between 1998 and 2007, about 100,000 such parents were removed. The extraordinary acceleration in the dismantling of these families, part of the government’s efforts to meet an annual quota of about 400,000 deportations, has had devastating results.

Research by the Urban Institute and others reveals the deep and irreversible harm that parental deportation causes in the lives of their children. Having a parent ripped away permanently, without warning, is one of the most devastating and traumatic experiences in human development.

These children experience immediate household crises, starting with the loss of parental income. The harsh new economic reality causes housing and food insecurity. In response to psychological and economic disruptions, children show increased anxiety, frequent crying, changes in eating and sleeping patterns, withdrawal and anger.

In the long run, the children of deportation face increased odds of lasting economic turmoil, psychic scarring, reduced school attainment, greater difficulty in maintaining relationships, social exclusion and lower earnings. The research also exposes major misconceptions about these parents.

First, statistics about those who were deported in 2011 show that 45 percent were not apprehended for any criminal offense. Those who were, were usually arrested for relatively minor offenses, not violent crimes.

Second, most American-born children of undocumented parents are not “anchor babies”; most of the parents have lived and worked in the United States for years before having their first child. “Birth tourism” is a xenophobic myth.

Finally, our studies in New York City and elsewhere show that these parents are extremely dedicated to their children’s well-being and development. Undocumented parents typically work 12 hours a day, 6 days a week, at the lowest of wages. Deporting them worsens the already precarious lot of their children.

A more humane deportation policy would not, as Mr. Obama pledged last May, target those with strong family ties who posed no public safety threat. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, in fact, began implementing such a “prosecutorial discretion” policy last fall, aimed at considering family ties and other factors in deportation decisions and closing low-priority cases.

But preliminary data from Immigration and Customs Enforcement raise the question of how committed the agency is to identifying and closing those cases. As John Morton, the agency’s director, testified in March, of 150,000 deportation cases the agency has reviewed nationwide, about 1,500 — a mere 1 percent — have been closed.

What does that mean for affected families? Consider Sara Martinez, 47, whose daughter is an American citizen. Since arriving from Ecuador, Ms. Martinez has paid her taxes, learned English and never broken a law, according to the New York Immigration Coalition, which has taken up her case. In January 2011, she was on a bus in Rochester with her daughter when three border patrol agents asked her for identification. She could produce only her Ecuadorean passport, and was arrested.

She has applied to Immigration and Customs Enforcement for prosecutorial discretion three times and been denied, without explanation, even though she meets new criteria for such discretion: she has close ties to the community and is not a threat to public safety.

Ms. Martinez’s six-year-old daughter has suffered from nightmares, had trouble sleeping and eating and expressed fear that the “police” will come again and take away her mother (who is not in detention while the case is pending) for good.

The United States should not be in the business of causing untold hardship by separating children from the love and care of their hard-working parents.

Hirokazu Yoshikawa, the academic dean at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, is the author of “Immigrants Raising Citizens: Undocumented Parents and Their Young Children.” Carola Suárez-Orozco, co-director of immigration studies at New York University, is an author of “Crossroads: The Psychology of Immigration in the New Century.”

Stats detail deportation of parents
By Daniel Gonz?lez, The Republic|azcentral.comPosted 4/5/2012 04:10:22 AM

During the first six months of last year, the federal government deported more than 46,000 parents who claimed their children are U.S. citizens, according to a new report that has raised concerns about what happens to children after their parents are expelled.

An additional 21,860 parents of U.S.-citizen children were ordered out of the country but may not have left, according to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement report to Congress last week.

The report, which reflects statistics from January through June 2011, is the first time ICE has released detailed information on the number of parents of U.S.-citizen children who have been deported. The agency was directed by Congress in 2010 to begin collecting the data.

Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said Wednesday that she was concerned about U.S.-citizen children whose parents have been deported. But she said the government has increased its emphasis on deporting immigrants with criminal convictions, and the majority of the parent deportations fell into that category.

"The number one concern all of us should have is, 'Where are the children? What's going on with the children?'" Napolitano said during a meeting with reporters and editors at The Arizona Republic. "But the plain fact of the matter is, having a child in and of itself does not bestow citizenship."

A 2009 report by the Department of Homeland Security's Inspector General estimated that more than 100,000 parents of U.S.-born children had been deported between 1998 and 2007.

The large number of parent deportations alarmed some members of Congress and immigrant advocates, prompting officials of President Barack Obama's administration to point out that the removals took place before a new policy took effect in the second half of last year. That policy directs ICE agents and prosecutors to to focus more attention on deporting dangerous criminals and use discretion to allow some illegal immigrants, including those with U.S.-citizen children, to stay in the country if they have not committed crimes.

Immigration-enforcement advocates, however, said the report was intended to create support for Obama's goal of allowing illegal immigrants to remain in the U.S. and eventually gain legal status by generating sympathy for their children.

ICE statistics show that 74 percent of the 46,486 parents of U.S.-citizen children deported had been convicted of crimes. Another 13 percent had been previously removed from the country, and 4 percent were fugitives -- immigrants who failed to comply with deportation orders.

"We made a big point of putting some real law-enforcement priorities into ICE so that their focus is on those with criminal convictions, repeat offenders, fugitives and those we pick up right at the border before they've had an opportunity to get into the interior of the country," Napolitano said.

The report could increase concerns among some politically important Latino voters over the record numbers of deportations that have taken place under Obama and his failure to deliver comprehensive immigration reform, including a legalization program for millions of illegal immigrants.

Members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus condemned the deportations, saying they are tearing families apart.

"This report is the latest example of the terrible toll our broken immigration system is taking on families," U.S. Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard, D-Calif., said in a prepared statement. She requested the report. "We can't continue to claim to value families while deporting parents in the tens of thousands."

Roybal-Allard cited a 2011 report by the Applied Research Center, a liberal organization, that said 5,100 children in the U.S. were living in foster care after their parents were deported.

Laura Vazquez, immigration legislative analyst at the National Council of La Raza, a Latino and immigrant advocacy group in Washington, D.C., said ICE should not be deporting parents convicted of minor crimes.

ICE did not provide a breakdown of the types of crimes committed by the deported parents of U.S.-citizen children.

An analysis of ICE statistics shows that the 46,486 parents of U.S.-citizen children deported during the first six months of 2011 represented 22 percent of the overall 211,167 people ICE deported during that time period.

The report said that 1,616 of the 21,860 parents of U.S.-citizen children ordered deported during the first six months of 2011 were from the Phoenix area.

Gerald Burns, a Chandler immigration lawyer who is president of the Arizona chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, said he agreed the government should be deporting immigrants who have committed violent crimes, regardless of whether they have U.S.-citizen children. But he said the majority of the cases he sees in court involve parents convicted of minor crimes, including using false papers to work.

He said the majority of U.S.-citizen children whose parents are deported remain in the U.S. with other relatives, or leave the country with their parents.

When parent breadwinners are deported, it it puts an added strain on those left behind, and in some "extreme cases," he said, the children wind up in foster care.

"When you take children away from parents, of course there is an effect on their development and on their mental health," Burns said.

What's more, older siblings often must step in to care for younger children when a parent is deported, limiting their own opportunities to succeed, Burns said.

Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, a Washington, D.C., research organization that favors tougher immigration policies, said the deportation of large numbers of parents of U.S. citizen children is the result of the government's past failure to adequately enforce immigration laws.

He said the report showed the longer illegal immigrants are allowed to stay, the more likely they are to have children born in this country, he said.

"If we had been more conscientious about deporting them earlier, then a lot of (the children) would have been born in Mexico" not the U.S., Krikorian said.

Krikorian also said he believes the report was a political ploy aimed at gaining support for Obama's efforts to let more illegal immigrants remain in the United States through his new deportation policy in the short term and eventually through immigration reforms that would allow illegal immigrants to gain legal status.

"He is trying to create support for his administrative amnesty where parents of U.S. kids are allowed to stay," Krikorian said.

Copyright 2012 The Arizona Republic| All rights reserved.
For more information about reprints & permissions, visit our FAQ's. To report corrections and clarifications, contact Standards Editor Brent Jones. For publication consideration in the newspaper, send comments to Include name, phone number, city and state for verification. To view our corrections, go to

© 2003 The E-Accountability Foundation