Report Documents Immigration Enforcement’s Harmful Effects on Children

While our country is engaged in an intense debate about immigration policy, largely absent from the discussion is the impact of our nation’s policies on the children of immigrants. Today, there are an estimated 5.5 million children with unauthorized immigrant parents, about three-quarters of whom are U.S.-born citizens.

Last week, the Urban Institute released a major report, “Facing Our Future: Children in the Aftermath of Immigration Enforcement,” that examines the consequences of parental arrest, detention, and deportation on 190 children in 85 families in six locations across the country. The report details impacts on children in the days and weeks after parental arrests, in the intermediate and long term while parents were detained or contested their deportation, and in some cases, after parents were deported. The children in the study experienced severe challenges, including separations from parents and economic hardships that likely contributed to adverse behavioral changes that parents reported.

The study found that parent-child separations pose serious risks to children’s immediate safety, economic security, well-being, and longer-term development. Most families in the sample lost a working parent and, as a result, experienced steep declines in income and hardships such as housing instability and food insufficiency.

Children who were separated from detained parents after a raid or other arrest, were more likely to experience behavioral changes in both the short term and the long term such as changes in eating and sleeping habits as well as being increases in anxious, withdrawn, clingy, angry, or aggressive behaviors.

The report offers many recommendations to address the hardships of children within the context of ongoing enforcement of immigration laws. These include changes in U.S. immigration law, in immigration enforcement strategies, and in how community and public agencies respond to the needs of children affected by immigration enforcement. Among the recommendations are:

  • Congress should modify immigration laws to take into account the circumstances and interests of children, especially U.S. citizen children, during deportation proceedings.
  • Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) should develop alternatives to detention for parents who represent neither a danger to the community nor a flight risk, including supervised released and ankle bracelets.
  • The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) should work together to develop strategies to support state and local governments and nonprofit organizations to ensure the well being of children when their parents are deported. Such plans should provide for education, health, and family stability.
  • Schools and early childhood providers should develop plans to protect children immediately following raids or other arrests to provide safe havens and responsive learning environments.
  • State and local child welfare agencies, along with foundations, experts, and advocates, should consider appropriate avenues to protect and advance the interests of children whose parents are caught up in immigration enforcement.
  • Nongovernmental institutions should consider strategies for developing and coordinating health, education, and other essential services for citizen children who cross back and forth between nations as a result of parental deportation.

Nebraska Appleseed will use the findings and recommendations of this major report as we continue to advocate on behalf of immigrant children in order to lessen the adverse effects of their parents’ detainment or deportation.

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