Congressional leaders have been debating comprehensive immigration reform for decades, with potential legislation nearing a vote in the Republican-led House of Representatives. The proposed bill would save the United States $1.2 billion and legalize 11 million undocumented immigrants according to Think Progress, but the regard for human casualties is absent as politicians from Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) to Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) debate the logistics of deportation and visas.
Illinois Rep. Luis Gutierrez appeared on “This Week” Sunday to remind leaders of the toll of faulty immigration policies. “I want to say it’s Father’s Day. A study just came out this week in Illinois, 56,000 children were left without a mom or a dad, some without parents in the last six years,” Gutierrez said. “It’s something we have to end. It’s a tragedy, what’s happening to American immigrant families.”
The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement deported more than 409,000 individuals in 2012, equating to more than 1,100 deportations daily, according to the federal agency’s website. If this current rate continues, more than 152,000 children will have at least one parent detained or deported by 2013.
These children are impacted physically, emotionally and mentally when their parents are returned to their countries of origins.
Oakland-based advocacy group, Human Impact Partners, released a report last week detailing the detrimental effects of deportation on the 5 million American children living with undocumented parents. Researchers interviewed over 500 immigrant parents and their children and released this consensus:
“[T]hese children and their families live with anxiety about the future, fearful that arrest, detention or deportation will tear their families apart. Anxiety and fear are only part of the damaging impacts of their families’ precarious legal status. Children of the undocumented may also suffer from poverty, diminished access to food and health care, mental health and behavioral problems and limited educational opportunities—particularly when a parent is arrested and detained or deported.”
The worries of deportation also impact some children’s ability to function in the classroom, leading to lower grades.
Think Progress reports:
Children of undocumented immigrant parents are less likely to graduate from high school than U.S.-born children, according to a joint study released by UC Irvine and Penn State. The study found that Mexican young adults with undocumented mothers averaged one-and-a-quarter less years of schooling than their counterparts with authorized immigrant mothers. The authors theorized that the schooling gap could be mitigated by the passage of the comprehensive immigration reform bill that the Senate is set to be debated on in June.
When faced with poverty and “ethnoracial discriminiation,” such kids feel alienated and are unable to launch themselves on an upward trajectory. The second generation children do not assimilate well to the host society because of the constant fear of having their parents’ immigration status found out. Lacking ties to the host country because of fear of deportation, second-generation children are thus unable to acculturate as well as their peers because of their parents’ legal status.
The future earnings of these second generation children also diminishes with the schooling gap because without a high school diploma, they would “earn about half a million dollars less over their lifetimes.”
The fear of detainment and eventual deportation also keeps immigrant families from seeking medical attention for their children. Almost 40 percent of children of undocumented children didn’t visit a doctor in 2012.
All of these factors affect long-term health.
Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA) has introduced legislation to protect children from long-term separation from their parents. She is calling on the Obama administration to act.
“While it’s critical that any comprehensive immigration reform proposal include protections for immigrant families, this study shows we can’t continue waiting for Congress to act,” Roybal-Allard said in a statement. “I once again call on the Administration to end the unjust deportation of parents.”
The Human Impact offers four solutions to minimize the effect of deportation on children, including offering a “direct, clear, expedient and affordable path to citizenship for all undocumented immigrants;” eliminating some of the Department of Homeland Security’s programs and policies that target immigrant families; and establishing child welfare programs similar to those enacted in California.
Comprehensive immigration reform may offer relief to some of immigration families. It is worth spending political capital on if it prevents one child from being separated from her parents.