Suffer the Little Children : Immigration Enforcement and the Foster Care System

Shattered Familiess, A report released yesterday by the Applied Research Center, states that current immigration enforcement policies put at risk 15,000 additional children for placement into the foster care system. The report is the first of its kind to research the impact of the intersection of immigration enforcement and the child welfare system.

As many families know, the foster care system already has parents of color, poor parents and immigrant parents in it’s crosshairs. Child welfare, working with local law enforcement who engage in racial profiling, put the long term care of children at risk. Poverty, instead of being looked at as a structural problem, is viewed as criminal neglect. Instead of attempting to attack the root causes of poverty, parents are criminalized and asked “why did you have children if you can’t afford them”. According to the report, children of immigrants are significantly more likely than children of non-immigrant parents to live in low-income families (below 200% poverty line)—35% to 49%. Some of this can be attributed to the fact that immigrant families ay not

I am reminded of the case of Cirila Baltazar Cruz, who lost custody of her daughter when a Mississippi social worker, who didn’t speak the same Indigenous language as Baltazar Cruz and who never sought translation services, found the Oaxacan mother unfit to care for her infant Ruby citing her lack of language skills, as well as fabrications that accused Baltazar Cruz of engaging in criminal activity. Eventually, Cruz was reunited with her daughter, but not before almost losing her permanently, as Ruby was placed in the care of a prominent local family that sought to fast track the child for adoption.

The ARC report presents many like cases, showing that what happened to Baltazar Cruz wasn’t a one off incident, but rather a symptom of how the criminalization of immigrants also seeks to make immigrant parenthood illegal. ARC identified at least 22 states across the country where children in foster care are separated from their parents because of immigration enforcement. Because of the long amount of time it often takes for immigration matters to be resolved, children lose
the opportunity to ever see their parents again when a juvenile dependency
court terminates parental rights. In fiscal year 2011, the United States deported a record-breaking 397,000 people and detained nearly that many. According to never before released federal data acquired by ARC through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, a growing number of deportees are parents. In the first six months of 2011, the federal government removed more than 46,000 mothers and fathers of U.S.-citizen children. ARC conservatively estimates that there are at least 5,100
children currently living in foster care whose parents have
been either detained or deported.

The increase in enforcement programs, like Secure Communities and 287(g, have made the situation worse. In counties where local police have signed 287(g) agreements with
ICE, children in foster care were, on average, about 29 percent more likely to have a detained or deported parent than in other counties.

Mothers are particularly at risk, especially mothers who may already be facing domestic violence in the home. Given the poor relationship that already exists between immigrant communities and the police, it comes as no surprise that the ARC report found many cases of parents losing their children after contacting law enforcement to intervene in a domestic violence situation.

From the report:

Police arrive at the home of an undocumented immigrant
mom of two U.S. citizens after neighbor calls 911 to
report what sounds like domestic violence. Police arrest
both the mother and her boyfriend. Police call Child
Protective Services (CPS).
CPS investigator places children in
temporary foster care with strangers
instead of with loving undocumented aunt.
CPS says undocumented relatives cannot take
custody because they “could be deported at
any time”. Mother is charged with assault.
At the time of booking, mother’s fingerprints are automatically
sent to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and checked
against the Secure Communities database. ICE flags her for
deportation and issues “hold.”

The ARC report also notes that once a child is in the custody of child welfare services, there is no policy to encourage family unification, especially in cases where children and parents were separated because of an immigration charge.

CPS administrators, caseworkers, judges, and attorneys (including the children’s own
lawyers) often believe that children are better off in the United States,
even if those children are in foster care. This belief often supersedes
the child welfare system’s mandate to move toward family reunification
and places borders on family and parental rights.

Despite clear child welfare policy that prioritizes placing children with
their own families, many child welfare departments will not place
children with their undocumented non-custodial parents, aunts, uncles,
grandparents or other relatives.

Among the solutions offered are increasing access to services for immigrant families, making family reunification a priority, halting deportations of
parents of U.S.-citizen children. If deportation proceedings occur, ICE should
release parents on their own recognizance and expand the use of community-
based supervisory programs. Meanwhile, child welfare departments
should develop clear policies for ensuring that detained parents can maintain
contact with their children and are not penalized because they are detained.
Child welfare departments should also work to support undocumented
victims of family violence who may be eligible for relief from deportation
through the Violence Against Women Act. An additional recommendation is, of course, the suspension, of programs like 287(g) and Secure Communities.

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4 comments on “Suffer the Little Children : Immigration Enforcement and the Foster Care System
  1. Very comprehensive summary, and also very disturbing. From what I’ve seen in practice so far, all too often ICE disregards entirely whatever equity an individual may have when it decides to deport someone.

    It’s only when an external force–the media; the community; or an attorney–pressures ICE that they even begin to start weighing an individual’s equities.

  2. Thanks Bryan. It was pretty disturbing to read and digest and then ponder how it seems that the current machine/system shows no signs of slowing down.

    I hope to help with my granito de arena

  3. Pingback: Community & Criticisms : Looking for the Answers in the Cecilia Muñoz Controversy | VivirLatino

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