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Study: More TX Kids Separated from Families, Despite New ICE Priorities

November 7, 2011

AUSTIN, Texas - Despite a new Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) policy meant to drastically reduce the number of non-criminals targeted for deportation, more and more children are being placed in foster care when their undocumented parents are detained - especially in Texas. A just-released study finds the new ICE priorities are not fundamentally changing the Obama administration's overall immigration policy, which has resulted in unprecedented levels of deportations.

Families are paying the price, according to the study's principal investigator, Seth Wessler, who also 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."

He says at least 5,000 children who are U.S. citizens are currently separated from their undocumented parents, and he warns that 15,000 more will wind up in foster care over the next five years if nothing changes. Of all the regions investigated, the Rio Grande Valley in Texas has the highest percentage of children in foster care whose parents were deported or detained. El Paso is a close second.

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, according to Wessler, local-level immigration and law-enforcement officials adapted their procedures to fit the new federal guidelines, so routine immigration violations are now 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."

He says even women reporting domestic violence to police have been deported or detained hundreds of miles from their children, if they lacked documentation.

The study finds little coordination between immigration enforcement and child welfare services. Wessler says it's often impossible for detained parents to pursue legal steps to reunite with their children, 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 criminals.

The full report, "Shattered Families - The Perilous Intersection of Immigration Enforcement and the Child Welfare System," is available at http://arc.org/shatteredfamilies.

Peter Malof, Public News Service - TX