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Balance Child and Family Protection with Immigration Enforcement Goals, Study Recommends

Document date: February 02, 2010
Released online: February 04, 2010

Abstract

As Congress again tries to draft comprehensive immigration reform legislation, lawmakers should balance the protection of children and the integrity of their families with immigration law enforcement objectives, according to a new Urban Institute study. "Facing Our Future: Children in the Aftermath of Immigration Enforcement" takes a hard look at current immigration policies' impacts on children of unauthorized immigrants, a part of the immigration picture that has so far been left out of focus. The report chronicles the experiences of more than 100 children affected by six worksite raids or targeted arrests by Immigration and Customs Enforcement. (Read in spanish)


Contact: Matthew Johnson, (202) 261-5723, mjohnson@urban.org.

WASHINGTON, D.C., February 2, 2010—As Congress again tries to draft comprehensive immigration reform legislation, lawmakers should balance the protection of children and the integrity of their families with immigration law enforcement objectives, according to a new Urban Institute study.

An estimated 12 million unauthorized immigrants live within U.S. borders. Three-quarters of the 5.5 million children with unauthorized parents are U.S.-born citizens. These children—more than 7 percent of all children in the United States—live under a cloud because their parents can be arrested at any time, separated from them, and even eventually deported.

"Facing Our Future: Children in the Aftermath of Immigration Enforcement" takes a hard look at current immigration policies’ impacts on children of unauthorized immigrants, a part of the immigration picture that has so far been left out of focus. The report chronicles the experiences of more than 100 children affected by worksite raids or targeted arrests by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in Grand Island, Neb.; New Bedford, Mass.; Van Nuys, Calif.; Postville, Iowa; Miami, Fla.; and Rogers and Springdale, Ark. The disruptions took place between December 2006 and May 2008, a period when the number of arrests, detentions, and deportations increased significantly compared with prior years.

Beyond separation from one or both parents, many children in the study experienced economic hardships when a breadwinner was arrested and couldn't work. Lost income was often followed by months of housing instability, difficulty affording food, and poor nutrition, the study found. Many children had trouble sleeping and lost their appetites, and many adolescents became aggressive or withdrawn.

Without slowing immigration law enforcement activities, the Obama administration has deemphasized large-scale worksite raids in favor of E-Verify, an electronic program designed to confirm legal work eligibility. The researchers recommend that ICE continue its de facto moratorium on large-scale raids but also expand humanitarian release guidelines to include parents arrested in all types of operations, such as arrests made by ICE fugitive operation teams and local law officers. If a parent's detention is mandatory, the researchers recommend, ICE should detain the parent closer to home and allow for more visits by families, attorneys, and consular officials.

Immigration overhaul legislation, the researchers suggest, should propose that every U.S.-born child have a court-appointed legal guardian who could fast-tract a petition for lawful residence for an undocumented parent. Any bill should also give immigration judges discretion to consider the long-term separation of parents from their children as an "exceptionally harmful" hardship to the development, prospects, and lives of citizen children.

The study’s authors are the Urban Institute’s Ajay Chaudry, Juan Manuel Pedroza, Rosa Maria Castañeda, Robert Santos, and Molly M. Scott and the Migration Policy Institute’s Randy Capps. The study was funded by the Foundation for Child Development, Carnegie Corporation of New York, W. K. Kellogg Foundation, Peppercorn Foundation, A. L. Mailman Family Foundation, and Annie E. Casey Foundation.

The Urban Institute is hosting a panel on Tuesday, February 2, to explore the report's findings (http://www.urban.org/events/firsttuesdays/Children-and-Immigration-Enforcement.cfm). Panelists will include David Venturella, ICE director of detention and removal operations, and Kerri Talbot, chief counsel for Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.). A live audio webcast will be available (http://www.visualwebcaster.com/event.asp?id=65623.)

The Urban Institute is a nonprofit, nonpartisan policy research and educational organization that examines the social, economic, and governance challenges facing the nation. It provides information, analyses, and perspectives to public and private decisionmakers to help them address these problems and strives to deepen citizens' understanding of the issues and tradeoffs that policymakers face.



Topics/Tags: | Immigrants | Nonprofits | Poverty, Assets and Safety Net | Race/Ethnicity/Gender


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