Forgotten Victims: Immigrant Kids and ICE-cold Actions

He didn't let cameras in when he met with the New Bedford families, but we'll never forget

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:

  • Families fall apart–in some cases, children went to the parents’ country of origin, while in others they stayed in the U.S. with other family members.
  • Families suffer economically–these parents aren’t just caregivers, they’re wage-earners, too. Children suffer housing instability and food insecurity after parents are detained.
  • Children’s behavior and mental well-being are dramatically compromised–the study finds evidence of sleeping and eating changes, anger, frequent crying, clinging, and withdrawing. These deterioriations were even more pronounced, actually, in kids whose parents were arrested at home. All of these children are expressing their extreme distress in whatever way they know how, and we know that they, and we, will pay the price for years.
  • Communities and institutions, particularly schools, responded well, but their capacity is inadequate: immigrant children experienced a compassionate response in all of the communities studied in this report, which, to me, suggests the obvious: The American people abhor this kind of heavy-handed, indiscriminate enforcement and decry its effects on kids in their communities.

    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.

  • 2 responses to “Forgotten Victims: Immigrant Kids and ICE-cold Actions

    1. Hey M,
      Someone told me about this movie/DVD. Are you familiar with it? The price is pretty steep, but I wish I could show it to my class.
      If you have seen it/like it, maybe we could get the School to throw in some dough, and I would throw in some from my PI return account.

      • I haven’t seen it yet, except a trailer, but I’ve heard GREAT things about it–there was a screening at UMKC that I couldn’t go to, but it was very well-received. It would be awesome to have in the School’s collection, especially for class discussions on how societal forces impact children and families. We’re gearing up for a DREAM Act vote after Thanksgiving–that wouldn’t help citizen with undocumented parents, but it would help hundreds of thousands of fantastic immigrant kids around the country, and give us something to celebrate as a nation for this second half of 2010. We all need to call Congress to tell them that this “lame duck session” can’t afford to be lame at all!

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