A new Urban Institute report prepared by Minneapolis-based firm Dorsey & Whitney reported on America’s immigration policy’s effect on children. Entitled “Severing a Lifeline: The Neglect of Citizen Children in America’s Immigration Enforcement Policy,” this comprehensive publication released last week highlights the 3.1 million American citizen children who are adversely affected by the increasingly militarized form of American immigration enforcement. Of the 900 immigrants arrested by 2008 ICE raids in Worthington (a December 2006 workplace raid of the Swift plant), Willmar and Austin, MN (sites of several home raids), for example, more than 500 children were affected, 2/3 of whom were legal American citizens.(“Severing a Lifeline: The Neglect of Citizen Children in America’s Immigration Enforcement Policy”)
Estimates from the Urban Institute suggest that for every 2 adult immigrants detained 1 citizen child is affected. More than 1.9 million immigrants have been deported this decade, likely affecting almost 1 million citizen children in our nation’s Boys and Girls Clubs, high schools, soccer teams, cross-country meets, honor rolls, Dairy Queens, debate tournaments.
Despite the insatiable demand for lower-skilled immigrant workers, currently only 5,000 permanent visas are offered for lawful entry each year. Temporary work permits are similarly limited. Under current immigration law, moreover, citizen children under the age of 21 cannot petition for the lawful re-entry of a deported parent or the naturalization of their parents. Those parents will often be barred from any type of legal re-entry for 10 years (often longer than their children have been alive). Although nativist rhetoric often cries that these immigrants should wait in line, currently the line winds ‘round the world for a mere 5,000 spots.((“Severing a Lifeline: The Neglect of Citizen Children in America’s Immigration Enforcement Policy”)
Furthermore, the Dorsey & Whitney report documents that ICE’s “knock and talk” searches are particularly harmful for children. Under pretextual excuses, ICE agents are permitted to enter the homes of suspected extralegals without a search warrant if the scared, often-confused, immigrant opens the door. In these raids, children have seen their parents harassed, racially profiled, interrogated on the living room couch, and sometimes led away in handcuffs. Or, worse yet, sometimes children have come home from school expecting an afternoon snack only to find their home abandoned in the wake of a raid.((“Severing a Lifeline: The Neglect of Citizen Children in America’s Immigration Enforcement Policy”)
The report also touches on other questionable detention techniques, such as the practice of forum shopping (whereby an immigrant detained in the generally lenient 9th Circuit might be moved the next day to the immigrant-hostile 5th Circuit) or isolation (typically, detention centers are isolated with little contact from the outside world). Such techniques employed by ICE hamstring immigrants’ efforts to get effective legal representation, contact their distraught family members, or gather evidence of their legality or asylum claims. When immigrants under these conditions sign “voluntary removal” orders in hopes of seeing their families sooner, the legality of our immigration system is seriously called into question. (“Severing a Lifeline: The Neglect of Citizen Children in America’s Immigration Enforcement Policy”)
Pointedly, the report makes several laudable recommendations including:
• Changing legislation to allow citizen children younger than 21 to petition for lawful re-entry of deported parents.
• That Congress grant immigration judges the discretion to consider the “best interests” of the citizen child in deportation and removal proceedings.
• The appointment of a guardian ad litem to protect and advocate for the interests of the child in all immigration proceedings.
• U.S. Immigration Customs and Enforcement develop guidelines for conducting home raids to ensure that enforcement actions are truly “targeted” and minimize the prospect of harm to children.
This past week, President Obama revealed that he plans to begin addressing our nation’s inadequate immigration system, including solutions for extralegal immigrant workers to become legal. While his statements were met by the usual tumult from NumbersUSA and FAIR (organizations identified as “hate groups” by the Southern Poverty Law Center but curiously referred to as “group[s] that favor reduced immigration” in the New York Times article). As Obama looks to make some positive changes in immigration laws which could have positive ramifications on our nation’s workforce and economy by legitimizing millions of people already working, his Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano must also seek to make some serious changes in the way undocumented immigrants and their legal children are treated. One great start to meeting both the needs of citizen children of immigrants and the international community would be to sign on to the Convention on the Rights of the Child. This 1989 UN treaty has been signed on to by every country in the world but two – Somalia and the United States. Article 10 of that convention has been a sticking point for the US in the past, but it would help solve the problems highlighted by the Dorsey & Whitney report. It reads: “applications by a child or his or her parents to enter or leave a State Party for the purpose of family reunification shall be dealt with by States Parties in a positive, humane and expeditious manner.” Hopefully in the not-too-distant future, we can join the rest of the world in protecting the rights of all children, immigrant and citizen.