American immigrant families divided by deportation

What Happens When Fathers Are Deported, Leaving Families Behind?

American immigrant families divided by deportation
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If you were forced to permanently leave the country where your children live, what would you do? Would you simply agree to go and give up seeing your children grow up? I would fight against such a ruling, at almost any cost. What about you?

As it turns out – no surprise – I am not alone here. A study published in International Migration Review shows that deported immigrants will likely keep trying to come back to the United States to be with their families, regardless of the risks involved.

The study looked at fathers deported back to El Salvador in 2002. Many said that — despite the risk of being caught — they would still return to the United States. The 2014 study, led by Jodi Berger Cardoso of the University of Houston, examined a 2002 survey of Salvadoran men who’d recently been deported. A little over 40 percent of all deportees said they would try to return to the United States.

The most important factor in whether or not a deportee would want to return, the researchers found, was whether or not he had children in the US. These children are almost always US-born, and therefore citizens.

As the study’s authors write, ” Deportees in these families face no good solutions to the problem of separation from their spouses and children — either they remove their children from their country of citizenship, or they remigrate to a hostile environment.” In this study, the choice was clear. The majority of deportee fathers said they’d rather return to the United States, even if it meant getting caught.

Granted, deportation policy was very different at that time than it’s been for the last several years, so there are some questions about how applicable the study is currently. But, the study raises valid questions about immigration enforcement.

First, we must ask what is the purpose of the harsh immigration enforcement policies the US has adopted in recent years? If the purpose of such policies is to deter migrants from coming back to the United States, then they are not working. If most of the people who are deported end up making their way back, the extra cost of long prison sentences and repeated deportations is nothing more than a huge tax burden on the American people.

Second, we must question the consequences of parental deportations on their children, who are left behind in the US. Who among us believes the children benefit by having their parents taken away? Though I don’t have data to back up this assertion, I must wonder whether such disruption leads to higher-than-expected rates of juvenile depression, crime and substance abuse, conditions which again only cost American taxpayers.

Third, how are the immigrants who get deported today different from the deportees in the study? Today, there are more “mixed-status” families — families that have both US-citizen and unauthorized members — than there were in 2002. According to a Pew Hispanic Trends Project report from 2011, “the number of U.S.-born children with at least one unauthorized immigrant parent has more than doubled since 2000.” This means deported immigrants today are more likely to have a reason to want to return to the US than when the study was conducted in 2002.

Fourth, are there additional reasons why deported immigrants return to the US? According to Jacqueline Hagan, one of the study’s authors, deportees are “very disadvantaged” back in their home countries — which makes it harder for them to reintegrate, and makes the choice to return to the US more attractive. “It’s much harder for them to get jobs, they’ve lost contacts, they’ve come back to few resources. It’s very different from a return migrant, who has completed his goals or her goals, and voluntarily returns home with savings, with family waiting for them, being successful.”

Additionally, she says, being deported itself carries a stigma. It can be especially hard for deportees with criminal records to get a job in his home country. With increasing numbers of immigrants being prosecuted for illegal entry or illegal reentry, lots of deportees have criminal records — even if their only crime was coming to the US without papers.

“These are the failures who come back, who are deported,” says Hagan. And it’s certainly plausible that migrants who are seen as failures are more likely to try to come back and try again.

As of 2010, a majority of migrants who’d returned to Mexico said they planned to return to the US immediately. Immigrants who’ve been deported might have a higher return rate than that. Government data suggests that parents who have been deported are, in fact, even more likely to try to return than other deportees. 21 percent of all deportees in 2012 were repeat violators, but over a third of deportee parents were deported for returning to the US.

To me, this says our immigration enforcement system is broken. In 2011, Immigration and Customs Enforcement deputy director Kumar Kibble said we spent $5 billion to detain and deport undocumented immigrants in 2010 alone. Wouldn’t these billions be better spent by investing in infrastructure, education or job training projects either in the countries where most undocumented immigrants originate or here in the US? Wouldn’t we, as a country, be better off if we allowed families to stay together and empowered them with resources to contribute as skilled workers, innovators and entrepreneurs in our economy? Why do we continue to throw away our money to divide families that came to this country to find safety and opportunities to thrive, when our expensive deterrents aren’t even working anyway?

What do you think are the best answers to such questions? If you or someone you know needs the assistance of an immigration attorney, please contact us today to schedule a consultation.

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