It is often easy to complain about something that seems to be black and white on its surface. Unfortunately, many people consider the issues related to immigration and immigration reform to be purely black and white. Far too many individuals believe that if an immigrant is undocumented, he or she should be removed. Simple as that.
However, when a person digs a little deeper and considers individual circumstances and situations, that person might just change his tune. An issue I'd like to discuss today is that of child welfare and undocumented immigrants. I hope that this post will inspire a discussion around family unity and the best interest of the child.
As reported by the Pew Hispanic Center, there are right around 5.5 million children in the U.S. (4.5 million were born in the U.S.), who live in mixed-legal status families. In most cases, there is at least one parent or family member who is undocumented. This means that there are millions of children living in the U.S. who could be separated from their families at any given time.
According to immigrationpolicy.org, the exact number of children and families separated by immigration enforcement is unknown. It was not until 2010 that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) began tracking the data consistently. Starting in 2011, DHS was only required to document the number of parents of U.S.-citizen children who had been removed each year. Because of this type of reporting, there are no precise numbers available. However, we do have some helpful information:
- On average, for every two adults who are apprehended in a worksite raid, there is at least one impacted child.
- Between 1997 and 2007, there were approximately 108,000 parents of U.S.-citizen children removed in the U.S.
- In the last few years, there has been a significant increase of parents of U.S.-citizen children removed in the U.S. More than 204,000 parents were removed between July 1, 2010 and September 31, 2012.
Ok, so those are the facts, but what accounts for this sudden change? There are a couple of primary reasons. One reason is the partnership local police agencies have with national agencies, like ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement). A notable shift occurred in immigration enforcement policy in 2007. In that year, the focus changed from worksite operations to cooperation with the criminal justice system. Studies show that more than half of the immigrants who were removed in 2011 were considered to be “criminal aliens” and this includes those who had committed non-violent offenses.
Another reason for the increase is due to prosecutorial discretion and mandatory detention laws. There seems to be a constant struggle between ICE's enforcement priorities and the use of prosecutorial discretion. It was not until 2011 that a statement was released that clarified ICE's enforcement policies and how and when it considered any type of prosecutorial discretion. An issue generally arises when parents are subject to “mandatory detention.” When an immigrant is faced with “mandatory detention,” he or she is normally not granted prosecutorial discretion.
When children are separated from their parents because of immigration enforcement, there are long-term consequences:
- The child may become distrustful of law enforcement;
- There is social and economic stress;
- The child typically does not perform as well in school; and
- The child does not leave the home as often, for fear of further interactions with immigration enforcement.
To resolve these problems, there must be legislation on both the federal and state level. Do you think there is a current opportunity for Arizona to pass some type of legislation that would help to alleviate this growing problem?