Study: More AZ Kids Separated from Families, Despite New ICE Priorities
PHOENIX - Federal immigration enforcement procedures implemented this year were supposed to refocus deportation efforts to target dangerous criminals. A just-released study finds that the new priorities are not fundamentally changing the Obama administration's overall immigration policy, which has led to unprecedented levels of deportations.
Families are paying the price, according to Seth Wessler, who wrote the report for the Applied Research Center.
"One of the many collateral effects of this policy is that children are now stuck in foster care, separated from their families, sometimes forever. Sometimes these children never see their families again."
At least 5,000 children who are U.S. citizens are separated from their undocumented parents, Wessler says, adding that 15,000 more will wind up in foster care in the next five years if nothing changes. Arizona is second only to California for the number of children in foster care who are separated from their undocumented parents.
When the Department of Homeland Security announced its new priorities this summer, it kept its goal of deporting 400,000 people a year. As a result, local-level immigration and law-enforcement officials adapted their procedures to fit the new federal guidelines, according to Wessler, so that routine immigration violations now are being classified as criminal.
"There's a growing fear in immigrant communities that communicating with local police will result in deportation. It's putting communities and families at significant risk."
Even women reporting domestic violence to police have been deported or detained hundreds of miles from their children if they lacked documentation, Wessler says.
The study finds little coordination between immigration enforcement and child-welfare services. It's often impossible for detained parents to pursue legal steps to reunite with their children, Wessler says, causing agencies and judges to move toward permanent termination of parental rights.
"Everybody agrees that children are better off with their families than in foster care. But when a parent is deported, that principle - that commitment to family unity - tends to go out the door."
The report calls for community-based solutions to keep families close together, and revised federal policies to ensure that deportation priorities actually target the most dangerous criminals.
The report is online at arc.org/shatteredfamilies.