About 19 million people in the US live in “mixed-status” families, in which at least one family member is a noncitizen, whether a green card holder or an undocumented immigrant. These families live with the fear that a brush with the law — including, a conviction for shoplifting or drug possession — could result in their noncitizen relative being deported and permanently barred from gaining or keeping legal status.
The Trump administration is now aggressively pursuing any illegal immigrants with any kind of criminal record. Attorney General Jeff Sessions threatened to strip U.S. Justice Department grants from cities and other local governments that choose to shield illegal immigrants from deportation efforts under President Donald Trump. His remarks were aimed at dozens of cities and other local governments, including New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Chicago that have joined a growing “sanctuary” movement aimed at protecting immigrant communities.
As individuals face the threat of deportation, ripple effects split families and entire communities apart. Children are being forced into foster care as their parents are shipped out of the country and leaving single mothers struggling to make ends meet. Legal status complicates reunifications, placing the burden for the care of these children on state and federal governments. The total costs to foster each child (between administrative and maintenance costs) are significant -about $30,000 per year. Deportation also creates a large number of single mothers struggling to make ends meet. The tenuous legal status of many parents left behind adds a double burden on these families to provide for their families while also raising their children.
Deportations’ consequences ripple out from those individuals with a family member that has been deported, affecting the larger community as well. Just knowledge alone about deportations occurring in one’s community, puts children and families and entire communities on edge and as a result, heightens fears about family separation.
Children and their parents live in constant fear of separation. Often children who do not know anyone deported still fear for their own families based on the knowledge that they could be separated at a moment’s notice. Because of fears of deportation, children routinely conflate the police with immigration officials. This is true even in areas where local law enforcement has no official agreement to work with the Department of Homeland Security. These children-who are U.S. citizens-grow up afraid of the police. Children begin to associate with immigrants of illegal status, regardless of their own identity or legal status. As a result, children are dissociating themselves with their immigrant heritage.
In the long term only comprehensive immigration reform with a pathway to earned legalization for unauthorized immigrants can grant security to parents and children in mixed-status families. Children should not be afraid that their family will be broken up due to their family’s status.