Saturday is International Children’s Day, so declared by the United Nations in 1954. And, so, it seemed like a good time to draw attention to the terrible consequences of harsh Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raids and other activities on children, both immigrants and U.S. citizens, who are caught up in our nation’s rush to criminalization.
The Urban Institute has released several reports on the impact of high-profile ICE raids on immigrant kids and on recommendations for how to protect families and children in the conduct of immigration enforcement (hint: it means not whisking away mommies and daddies!). And, while the specific cases referenced were not workplace raids, there has even been an Inter-American Commission on Human Rights decision that U.S. deportation policies violate citizen children’s basic human rights.
This is one of those issues that, despite my years of work on immigrant rights and social justice, I didn’t really “get” until after I became a mom. I mean, did I always think that it was absolutely horrible, the way that a parent could leave for work in the morning and then never come home? Yes. Did I always cry when I heard the story about the woman who was frantic after being arrested on her way to take some food to her husband at work, because she had a baby at home who had never taken a bottle before? Absolutely.
But it wasn’t until my son was born that I could really begin to understand, at least a tiny bit, what some of these parents go through: cross the border illegally so my child had enough to eat? I’d do that. And if someone pulled me away from my child, treating me like a criminal for simply trying to provide a better life for him? It literally gives me nightmares; my stomach hurts when he cries when I have to drop him off at school.
And, so, this mom thinks that this has to stop. That we can’t talk about “workplace enforcement” anymore as though it was some benign policy, the most rational thing in the world, instead of what it really is: a decision to rip families apart and ruin children’s lives in an afternoon. And we can’t conclude that it’s anything other than what it really is: unconscionable.
Among the key findings of this longitudinal study examining how children fare in the aftermath of workplace raids that involved their parents:
Obviously, we need Congress to get the message that we need comprehensive immigration reform. These parents, and their children, wouldn’t be vulnerable to deportation and its collateral damages if they had the legal status that CIR would afford.
In the meantime, ICE needs to operate under a regulatory mandate to focus, first, on removing criminals who also happen to be non-citizens, an enforcement strategy that is in all of our interests (and one that could use some additional attention; I know it’s easier to rack up arrests if you’re going after nursing moms rather than hardened criminals, but if you want to call yourself ICE, you’ve got to be tough, right?).
And, second, we need an enforcement strategy that recognizes that these high-profile raids have all targeted the workers, not the employers, sending the message that we care more about, well, sending messages, than we do about getting employers to follow immigration law.
If we’re going to try to enforce these broken laws, we’d better find out some higher-impact, more targeted ways to do it.
And, above all, as the debate rages about immigration policy and how to proceed, we’ve got to agree on one core truth:
First, we’ve got to get kids off the battlefield.