Unless you are directly affected by immigration, it’s hard to understand how immigration laws influence the lives of people around the world. And, with more focus on immigration now than ever before, it’s easy to get stuck on laws and policies and lose sight of the actual people (oftentimes children) who are powerless in their fight for a safe life.
Without getting too far into politics, what I want to discuss is how families, and children in particular, are affected by current policies and deportation. It is estimated that 6 million children are currently living with an undocumented family member – usually a parent or guardian. Since 2010, over 250,000 parents have been deported, causing U.S. citizen children to be separated from at least 1 paren. But, this is only what we know.
There are likely many more instances where an immigrant parent going through the removal process chooses not to disclose that they have a child. The main reason for this is because they fear for the child’s safety and wellbeing. When a parent is deported, they can take the child with them or leave the child in the United States with a guardian, or in a foster home. Such separation from a parent is traumatic for a child and it is leaving children in vulnerable situations.
Another complex scenario is when the parent or guardian is not in the country, but is trying to protect their child by sending them to the United States through a smuggling network. There are ways to get into the United States through visas and other means but, in many instances, these ways are not possible because people are in fear for their lives.
A large number of people are not immigrating to the United States as a first choice; they are seeking asylum and coming here as a last resort. They know they are arriving here via illegal means, but they don’t care because they are in fear for their lives.
ICE officials recently announced that they would initiate criminal prosecutions and removal proceedings against immigrant parents/guardians who send their children to the United States through smugglers or traffickers. The goal here is to stop smuggling networks from victimizing children – which is admirable – but how the Department of Homeland Security could prove that the guardians/parents were co-conspirators in the smuggling is another story altogether.
The most unfortunate aspect of the situation is that the parents are just trying to protect their children. The American Academy of Pediatrics had an interesting take on the matter:
“It is difficult to imagine what it would be like to be a parent who lives in fear for their child’s life, health and safety every day. For those parents, it is not a choice to bring a child to our country; it is a last resort effort to save his or life. Fleeing violence, persecution and brutality, even if it involves sending the child along on a dangerous journey, it is not a choice.”
If a preschool caught on fire, the goal would be to evacuate all the children as quickly as possible. You wouldn’t lock the doors and trap them in there. Sure, the main problem is the fire, but anybody running from it needs to be treated with understanding– not told to hang in there until the fire’s out.
So, what are we doing as a country? Well, for one, not making it any easier, recently. For years, the government has wanted to strip the right of any detained immigrant child of a bond hearing in immigration court. Let’s suppose a child is fleeing persecution and fighting for his or her life – in this instance, they should have the right to seek asylum from their country, but this has been fought over for a long time. Fortunately, The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals blocked the government’s most recent attempt to revoke this right, in a 3-0 decision. The court’s decision was influenced by the priority of treating immigrant children humanely, and from my personal experience, these detained children need the right to a hearing in immigration court.
If you are at risk of removal, or somebody you know is having problems immigrating to the United States, it is important to act fast. With the way new immigration laws and policies are being passed so swift and aggressively, you need to give yourself every opportunity to seek asylum or become a resident/citizen. If the government is willing to strip detained children (who are fleeing violence) of their right to a hearing in immigration court, it is hard to imagine what they would NOT do.