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December 2012, Week 3

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Tue, 18 Dec 2012 21:01:52 -0500
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Stop Deporting Parents - Record Number of Deportations in Last Two Years of Parents of U.S. Citizens

Nearly 205K Deportations of Parents of U.S. Citizens in Just
Over Two Years

by Seth Freed Wessler

December 17, 2012
ColorLines

http://colorlines.com/archives/2012/12/us_deports_more_than_200k_parents.html

The federal government conducted more than 200,000
deportations of parents who said their children are U.S.
citizens in a timespan of just over two years, according to
new data obtained by Colorlines.com. The figures represent the
longest view to date of the scale of parental deportation.

Between July 1, 2010, and Sept. 31, 2012, nearly 23 percent of
all deportations - or, 204,810 deportations - were issued for
parents with citizen children, according to federal data
unearthed through a Freedom of Information Act request. [See
the full data set here.]

Because some people may have been deported more than once in
the time period, the data represents total deportations
conducted, not the number of individuals removed from the
country. However, experts say that the total number of
deportations of parents may be higher because some mothers and
fathers fear telling authorities that they have kids. An
additional group of parents whose kids are not U.S. citizens
are not reflected in the numbers.

As Congress and the White House promise immigration reform
legislation in the new year, the numbers raise questions about
the impact of the government's immigration policies on
families and about what happens to the children whose mothers
and fathers are deported from the United States.

"We are in a crisis situation in which we need to start taking
action immediately to prevent these needless and often-times
permanent separations of American children from their
families," California Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard said in an
interview with Colorlines.com. Roybal-Allard, a member of the
Congressional Hispanic Caucus, introduced legislation last
year that would protect detained and deported immigrant
parents from losing their children.

"We have to make sure that all children are protected,"
Roybal-Allard said. "we're talking about U.S. citizens; their
pleas and cries for help are pretty much being ignored at this
point."

Congress in 2009 ordered Immigration and Customs Enforcement
to compile data on parental deportation beginning on July 1,
2010, and to release it every six months. Since then, however,
the federal government has released the figures just once, and
only for the first six months of 2011.

The new data includes all deported mothers and fathers who
reported having U.S.-citizen kids since July 1, 2010,
including those in the previously reported six-month period.
Rates of parental deportation have remained more or less level
since the government began collecting the data, and annually,
more than 90,000 parents with U.S.-citizen kids are removed
from the United States.

Families Torn Apart

Questions remain about what happens to the children of
deportees.

"We don't know how many [children] stay here and how many go
with their parents," said Luis H. Zayas, the dean of the
University of Texas School of Social Work who is at work on a
federally funded study on the mental health impacts on
children when mothers and fathers are deported

"We know there are traumatic effects on the kids," Zayas
added. "We are talking about separating families from
children. That's not something our government should be
doing."

Zayas said that when children follow their parents to Mexico,
the country where most deportees are from, they often struggle
with stigma and deep poverty. "Many of their parents fled
poverty, fled government oppression and when they return, they
return to these origins. That puts kids at risk."

It's clear, however, that a disturbing number of children are
separated from their families for significant stretches of
time, and some permanently. A Colorlines.com investigation
released in November 2011 estimated that there were at least
5,100 children in foster care who faced significant barriers
to reunifying with their detained and deported parents. We
projected that if deportation and child welfare policies
remained unchanged, another 15,000 kids could face a similar
fate over the three years between 2012 and 2014.

Among them were the children of Felipe Montes, an undocumented
Mexican immigrant who was deported from his home in North
Carolina in December 2010 because he had racked up a series of
driving violations. He left behind three young U.S.-citizen
children and a wife, Marie Montes. The kids initially remained
with their mother, but Felipe Montes had been the primary
caretaker and wage earner in the family and without the
support of her husband the county child welfare department
soon determined that Marie Montes, who had long struggled with
mental illness and drug abuse, could not care for them. The
three young boys were shuttled into foster care with couples
who hoped to adopt them and the child welfare department
refused to reunite the kids with their father in Mexico.

Last month, after a long court battle that drew national
attention, a state judge in North Carolina granted Montes
custody of his three kids. The 32-year-old father expects to
take them with him to Mexico after the child welfare case is
closed as planned in February.

The Administration's `Discretion'

The new figures show that rates of parental deportation have
remained largely level since Congress ordered ICE to begin
collecting the data, quashing hopes from some advocates that
the agency's 2011 "prosecutorial discretion" guidelines would
lead to a decline in these removals.

The guidelines, released on June 17, 2011, in a memo from ICE
director John Morton, instructed ICE agents to focus
deportation efforts on people with serious criminal
convictions, those picked up crossing the border into the
U.S., and those who had previously been deported from the
country.

The memo also ordered agents making deportation decisions to
weigh "the person's ties and contributions to the community,
including family relationships," and "whether the person has a
U.S. citizen or permanent resident spouse, child, or parent."

In answer to questions about the parental deportation data,
ICE officials told Colorlines.com the continued pace of
deportations does not reflect a failure to implement
prosecutorial discretion, because most deported parents have
other factors weighing against them.

"Evaluation of this data in the past has repeatedly shown that
the overwhelming majority of these individuals have
significant criminal and/or immigration histories placing them
within ICE's enforcement priorities," wrote agency
spokesperson Gillian Christensen in an emailed statement,
"therefore making them ineligible for an exercise of
prosecutorial discretion."

In April, the Arizona Republic reported over 74 percent of
deported parents had been convicted of crimes, according to
ICE figures. Another 13 percent had been deported previously.

But the devil is in the details. And the question for parental
deportation is the same as for other groups the federal
government have said are criminals: what's considered
"significant" criminal background? Figures on deportations
though the Secure Communities, an ICE program that picks up
immigrants in local jails, reveals that nearly 40 percent of
deportees with convictions were charged with the lowest level
crimes, including driving offenses.

Advocates note that regardless of whether a deported mother or
father falls into one of the government's priority groups, the
impact on their kids the same. "Any deportation of a parent is
a horrible thing for the child," said Emily Butera, senior
program officer at the Women's Refugee Commission who
advocates in Washington for greater protections for these
families. "The reason for the deportation is immaterial for
the kid."

Officials say they've made strides to protect parents who fall
outside of their target populations and are the primary
caretakers for children.

"ICE works with individuals in removal proceedings to ensure
they have ample opportunity to make important decisions
regarding the care and custody of their children," Christensen
noted. "ICE is sensitive to the fact that encountering those
who violate our immigration laws may impact families."

As a sign of this, agency officials point to Felipe Montes, to
whom the agency granted a rare "humanitarian parole" to
reenter the country in August so that he could attend court
hearings on his parental rights.

But immigration attorneys say the Montes case is a rare
exception and that few, if any other deported parents have the
opportunity to come back. Meanwhile, attorneys say that
immigrants held in immigration detention centers continue to
struggle to maintain contact with their children.

The data does show a slight decline in the number of parental
deportations in the most recently reported three month period.
From July until September of this year, ICE deported 20,878
parents, about 10 percent less than average. The overall
deportation numbers for August to September of this year have
yet to be released however, so it's impossible to know whether
this also marks a decline in the larger rate of deportation.

One reason for the small decline could be that in recent
months, ICE appears to have had less luck getting judges to
order the deportation of parents. Before January of this year,
ICE was able to obtain deportation orders from immigration
judges in 50 to 58 percent of cases. Since April, courts have
handed down deportation orders in fewer than 43 percent of
cases.

Concern over what happens to the children of deportees is now
squarely at the center of recent advocacy and congressional
promises about an immigration reform bill likely to be
introduced next year. Last week, dozens of children, some
whose own parents have been deported, arrived on Capitol Hill
to deliver boxes of letters from other kids asking Congress to
stop deporting parents. The "We Belong Together" campaign, as
the effort convened by several advocacy groups is called, aims
to call attention to the impact of deportations on kids.

White House officials and members of Congress have promised to
push an immigration reform bill early next year, after
deliberations over the "fiscal cliff" settle. Rep. Roybal-
Allard, who joined a briefing with the group of children last
week, told Colorlines.com that she and other members of the
Congressional Hispanic Caucus are demanding that any
comprehensive immigration reform bill focus on family unity.
She wants the bill she introduced last year, the Help
Separated Families Act, to be folded into the comprehensive
immigration legislation passed by Congress. The bill would
provide protections for deported parents and for undocumented
family members who care for their young relatives

"There needs to be a path to citizenship for those here, and
there needs to be provision to keep families together," she
said. "I'm not sure that my colleagues in general are aware of
the information that you are now bringing to light."

[Seth Freed Wessler is an investigative reporter and
researcher who works at Colorlines.com and the Applied
Research Center. He is a recipient of the Hillman Award for
Journalism.

Seth has reported from Mexico, the Caribbean, and across the
United States on immigration enforcement, the safety net,
criminal justice and the human fallout of the financial
collapse. He led a groundbreaking Colorlines/ARC investigation
on the separation of families as a result of immigration and
child welfare policy; the investigation led to a direct
response from the federal government, as well as the
introduction of state-level legislation and numerous advocacy
campaigns. Seth was among the first reporters to write on the
unprecedented buildup of immigration enforcement under the
Obama administration, and his Nation Institute Investigative
Fund-supported reporting on the hidden effects of welfare
reform for families struggling through the recession gained
national attention. Seth grew up in Maine where he skated on
lakes, back when they froze. He now lives in Brooklyn where is
often found talking to strangers.]

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