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Paying the Price: The Impact of Immigration Raids on America's Children

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Document date: October 31, 2007
Released online: October 31, 2007

The nonpartisan Urban Institute publishes studies, reports, and books on timely topics worthy of public consideration. The views expressed are those of the authors and should not be attributed to the Urban Institute, its trustees, or its funders.

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Over the past year, Immigration and Customs Enforcement has intensified immigration enforcement activities by conducting several large-scale worksite raids across the country. From an in-depth study of three communities—Greeley, CO, Grand Island, NE and New Bedford, MA—this report details the impact of these worksite raids on the well-being of children. The report provides detailed recommendations to a variety of stakeholders to help mitigate the harmful effects of worksite raids on children.


There are approximately five million U.S. children with at least one undocumented parent. The recent intensification of immigration enforcement activities by the federal government has increasingly put these children at risk of family separation, economic hardship, and psychological trauma. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the interior enforcement arm of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the federal agency charged with enforcing immigration laws, has markedly increased the pace of worksite raids in the past few years to apprehend undocumented immigrants: the number of undocumented immigrants arrested at workplaces increased more than sevenfold from 500 to 3,600 between 2002 and 2006. These actions are part of intensified enforcement activities, including deportation of immigrants who have committed crimes; door-to-door operations to arrest immigrants with deportation orders; and large-scale raids of suspected undocumented immigrants’ worksites. With the collapse of comprehensive immigration reform in Congress, and the all but certain appropriation of additional enforcement resources to ICE, it is likely that the number of worksite actions will continue to increase.

The primary goal of this paper is to go beyond the human interest stories reported in the media and provide a factual basis for discussing the impact of worksite enforcement operations on children with undocumented parents. The study focuses on children because they have strong claims to the protection of society, especially when they are citizens and integrated into their schools and communities, and the United States is the only country they have known and consider home. They also warrant our attention because they are emotionally, financially, and developmentally dependent on their parents’ care, protection, and earnings.

The findings discussed in this report are based on a study of three communities that experienced large-scale worksite raids within the past year: Greeley, Colorado; Grand Island, Nebraska; and New Bedford, Massachusetts. In each location Urban Institute staff met with employers, lawyers, religious leaders, public social service agencies, nonprofit agencies, community leaders, and others to discuss the immediate aftermath of the raids, as well as the potential longer-term impact on children. Parents, including some released from ICE detention, and other caregivers of affected children were interviewed individually.

Greeley and Grand Island were two of the six sites in which Swift & Company meatpacking plants were raided. New Bedford was the site of a raid on Michael Bianco, Inc., a textile manufacturing facility that makes backpacks for the U.S. military. In all three sites the vast majority of workers arrested were from Mexico, Guatemala, or other Latin American countries. The findings in this report, however, may also be applicable to children with undocumented parents from other regions of the world, as about 22% of all undocumented immigrants in the nation come from regions other than Latin America.

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Topics/Tags: | Children and Youth | Crime/Justice | Immigrants

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