“How can my country not allow a mother to be with her children, especially when they are so young and they need her, and especially when they are Americans?” Rony Molina asks in an AP article by Helen O’Neill in which he details his wife’s deportation.
Have you ever considered what happens to the children of immigrant parents who are deported?
Officially, parents who are being deported are supposed to be given the option of taking the children with them or leaving the children with relatives in the U.S. who can take care of them. However, once parents are put into detention centers – sometimes hundreds of miles away from their children – they are not available to physically participate in the decision-making process. When the parents are not able to be there during court proceedings, their parental rights may be terminated and the children are placed in the foster care system. The child welfare system moves forward without the parents, mostly because the detention centers do not cooperate, according to an article in Peoplesworld.org.
In the first half of 2012 alone, nearly 45,000 parents were deported, according to the federal department of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). At least 5,100 U.S. citizen children in 22 states live in foster care because their parents were deported, according to an estimate by the Applied Research Center, a New York-based advocacy organization, which first reported on such cases last year. An unknown number of these children are being put up for adoption against the wishes of their parents, who, once deported, are often helpless to fight when a U.S. judge decides that their children are better off here. Some of these children will never see their parents again.
“Quiet, slow-motion tragedies unfold every day … as parents caught up in immigration enforcement are separated from their young children and disappear,” Nina Rabin, an associate clinical professor of law at the University of Arizona, wrote last year in “Disappearing Parents: A Report on Immigration Enforcement and the Child Welfare System.”
Rabin, an immigration lawyer, says one of the most unsettling experiences of her life was witnessing the “cruel and nightmarish destruction” of one Mexican family whom she represented in a fruitless attempt to keep a mother and her children together.
The mother, Amelia Reyes-Jimenez, carried her blind and paralyzed baby boy, Cesar, across the Mexican border in 1995 seeking better medical care, Rabin said. She settled in Phoenix — illegally — and had three more children, all American citizens. In 2008 she was arrested after her disabled teen son was found home alone.
Locked in detention, clueless as to her rights or what was happening to her children, she pleaded guilty to child endangerment charges, and then spent two years fighting to stay with her children.
Twice her attorneys tried to convince an immigration judge that she qualified for a visa “on account of the harm that would be done to her three U.S. citizen children if she were to be deported,” Rabin said. She lost and was deported back to Mexico in 2010.
Last year, her parental rights were terminated by an Arizona court after a judge ruled that she had failed to make progress towards reunification with her children — something Rabin said was impossible to do, locked away for months without access to legal counsel or notifications from the child welfare agency.
Knowing that this is happening makes me want to scream and curse. How could it not? Any one child who lives in foster care when they have parents who are capable of taking care of them and who desperately want to do so is nothing less than tragic.
In 2011, ICE announced a new policy of “prosecutorial discretion” that directs agents to consider how long someone has been in the country, their ties to communities and whether that person’s spouse or children are U.S. citizens. “That gave us a lot of hope,” said David Leopold, general counsel for The American Immigration Lawyers Association in O’Neill’s AP story. “Now we are all scratching our heads wondering where is the discretion when many of our lawyers continue to see people being deported with no criminal record, including parents of American children.”
Our immigration system is ripping hearts and families to shreds, and we must stop this outrage now. We should be fuming. We should be furious. We should not rest until rules that divide families are changed.
We must hold Congress accountable for changing our immigration laws so that the best interests of families – and particularly children – are protected. Please contact your Congressional representatives and let them know that you are a voter who is demanding change to our immigration system. See our article called “4 Ways to Fight For Immigration Reform” for information about how to contact your representatives.
On behalf of the parents and children who have lost one another, we desperately want such change. We are brainstorming ideas on how to draw attention to the issue of families divided by the U.S. immigration system. But we want to know your ideas. What can we all do to push for immigration reform that not only allows but encourages families to stay united? Please comment or send us a message with your ideas.
If you or someone you know needs the help of an immigration lawyer, please contact us today to schedule a consultation.