Unfortunately, this nation’s immigration policy flies in the face of all the above principals. According to a new report issued by the Applied Research Center (ARC), thousands of children, many of them US citizens, are being taken from their parents, by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents, and placed in foster homes.
The ARC report estimates that there are currently 5,100 children in foster care because they were separated from their parents by ICE. They expect that 15,000 more will be taken from their parents in the next five years.
To see a copy of the ARC report, click on the following link, and then click on the link at the bottom of the web based version of this article.
According to the report, when mothers and fathers are detained and deported and their children are relegated to foster care, family separation can last for extended periods. Too often, these children never see their parents again.
One might have expected that such actions would decline under the Obama administration, but, according to the report, the opposite is the case. In fiscal year 2011 (which ended on September 30, 2011) the United States deported a record-breaking 397,000 people and detained nearly that many. In just the first six months of 2011, 46,000 of those deported were mothers and fathers of US citizen children. These deportations shatter families and endanger the children left behind.
In August of this year, Janet Napolitano, United States Secretary of Homeland Security, announced what she called a major change in federal enforcement activities. She said that henceforth the federal government would cease prosecution of undocumented immigrants who are living here peacefully, and breaking no laws. Deportation of of undocumented immigrants henceforth would concentrate on immigrants engaged in criminal activities.
Seth Wessler, of ARC said the jury is still out on that question. The data they have so far covers only until the end of fiscal year 2011, barely more than a month after Napolitano’s announcement. However, he noted that the federal government seems to have been changing its definition of criminal activity as regards undocumented immigrants. Recently they have been prosecuting several actions as criminal actions that previously would just have been considered violation of immigration laws. He gave the following activities as examples:
- Second entries into the US without proper documentation
- Working in the US without proper documentation
- Driving without a license
According to Wessler, it was uncommon, in the past, to consider these violations as criminal activities when deciding if deportation should be pursued.
A growing number of local police departments are signing agreements to work with ICE to enforce the nation’s immigration laws. The agreements are called 287 (g) agreements. These agreements appear to be accelerating the process which all too often tears families apart and takes children from there loving biological parents.
Separation of children from their undocumented parents are significantly higher in cities and counties that have signed 287 (g) agreements than in cities and counties that have not. Children in foster care, in counties where such agreements were signed, were, on average, about 29 percent more likely to have a detained or deported undocumented parent than in other counties.
According to the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency, Sheriff’s departments from the following California Counties have signed 287 (g) agreements with ICE.
- Los Angeles County
- Orange County
-San Bernardino County
The ARC report estimates that, in Los Angeles County alone, there are 1,178 children in foster care after being taken from there parents by Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
The report concludes with the following recommendations.
- Federal, state, and local governments should establish new immigration policies that prevent separation of families and that enable parents to make the best decisions for the care and custody of their children.
- Congress should establish policies that allow undocumented parents to comply with child welfare case plan requirements, and which allow parents to have meaningful input in court processes that determine the fate of their children.
- Congress should reinstate judicial discretion in these cases to allow courts to rule that parents can stay in this country when that is in the best interests of the children.
- The Obama administration should end the practice of enlisting local police agencies in the enforcement of federal immigration laws.
-The Obama administration should also issue new directives to ICE staff that undocumented parents should be granted discretionary relief from deportation, particularly if their children have been put in foster care during immigration proceedings.
- Parents should be released on their own recognizance and community based supervisory programs should be expanded to permit the release of more undocumented parents during the deportation process.
- Local governments should give immigration law and policy training to all judges, case workers, supervisors, and attorneys who work in dependency courts.
- All state and local welfare agencies should sign agreements with foreign consulates that ensure their ability to assist their nationals that are facing deportation proceedings.
- State and local governments should establish policies to ensure that the child welfare system treats undocumented parents fairly and that parents are seriously considered as viable care givers for their children.
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