By ELEANOR HEDGES DUROY, age 11
Imagine coming home from school to find your parents missing, or watching Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) or Drug Enforcement Administration officials handcuff your parents and take them away. This happened to Florida teenagers Cesia Soza and Ronald Soza Jr. in September 2013 when their father, an undocumented immigrant from Nicaragua, was taken from his home to a detention center, and then deported to Nicaragua. And they are not alone.
In 2011, almost 400,000 people were deported from the United States and more than 360,000 were detained by ICE. The number of people deported each year has risen drastically over the past decade. According to a recent report by Race Forward, 22 percent of deported immigrants are parents of children who are U.S. citizens.
When parents are detained for immigration violations, they are taken away from their children to detention centers. Children who are legal residents are placed in Child Protective Services (CPS) custody and foster care until courts decide whether or not they can return to their families. Separation from parents can last for years and reunification can be very difficult.
If parents remain in detention for months or years, they cannot visit with their children, they end up missing court appointments and cannot meet CPS requirements. Because of this, judges often rule that children should be put up for adoption. Even if undocumented parents are released from detention, it is very difficult for them to resume custody because they lack proof of income, health care and enough money to afford housing and transportation.
Research shows that forced family separation causes long-term problems like depression and anxiety. “We don’t know how many kids whose parents are deported will suffer from a serious mental or emotional disorder… but we do know that all children suffer, and that deportation makes their lives and their education and development harder,” said Dr. Schuyler Henderson, a pediatric and adolescent psychiatrist at NYU Langone Medical Center.
Advocates argue that families should not be separated because of immigration status. The report published by Race Forward suggests that if parents cannot remain in the United States, they should be allowed “to make the best decisions for the care and custody of their children.”
When Barack Obama ran for president in 2008, he said, “When nursing mothers are torn from their babies, when children come home from school to find their parents missing…when all this is happening the system just isn’t working and we need to change it.” Yet recent reports show that since Obama took office, the United States has deported a record two million immigrants. According to the Race Forward report, parents of U.S. children are still being deported at extremely high rates, these children’s rights are still being violated and families are still being separated against their will.
Deport – to expel a person from one country back to their country of origin, often due to immigration status or for having committed a crime
Detain – to hold an individual in a certain location for a period of time, often before trial or deportation proceedings