Friday, March 27, 2009

The Best Interests of All Children

March has seen serious and thorough studies on underreported aspects of the mistreatment of immigrants in the U.S. Last week, I blogged on recent coverage of violations of the reproductive rights of immigrant women in detention. This week, my topic is the devastating effects that contemporary immigration law and policies can have on children of undocumented immigrant parents (about which I've also blogged here and here). The law firm Dorsey & Whitney published this week a painstakingly researched report, Severing a Lifeline: The Neglect of Citizen Children in America's Immigration Enforcement Policy detailing the barriers to family unity created by immigration law and the impact of immigration raids and other harsh enforcement policies on citizen children. They tell the paradigmatic story of one young boy affected by the raids:
Miguel (a pseudonym) was a second-grade student attending elementary school in Worthington, Minnesota. His mother, an undocumented immigrant from El Salvador, was employed at the Swift & Company plant in Worthington. Miguel was described by his teacher as a “happy little boy,” making real progress in school ... until December 12, 2006. On that day, armed agents from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (“ICE”) raided the Swift plant in Worthington, detaining Miguel’s mother and more than 200 other immigrants who came to this rural community in southwestern Minnesota seeking a better life for themselves and their children. Returning home after school, Miguel discovered his mother and father missing, and his two-year-old brother alone.
For the next week, Miguel stayed at home caring for his brother, not knowing what had become of his parents. Not until a week after the raid, when his grandmother was able to make her way to Worthington to care for her frightened grandchildren, was Miguel able to return to school. According to his teacher, this previously “happy little boy” had become “absolutely catatonic.” His attendance became spotty at best. His grades plummeted. At the end of the school year, Miguel was not able to advance to the third grade with the rest of his class.
The report calls for a reassessment of immigration law to take into account the best interests of the child in determining whether to deport their parents. In an op-ed in Ms. magazine, Prof. Patricia Zavella (pictured right) presents a similar call for a feminist perspective on immigration reform -- one that would prioritize the unity of families and the best interests of children caught up in the inequities of immigration enforcement. The Child Citizen Protection Act, H.R. 182, would do just this by allowing immigration judges to weigh the best interests of the U.S. citizen children in their parents' removal hearings, authorizing judges to decline deportation where it would be clearly against the best interests of the child. The bill seems a quixotic hope, but the horror stories recounted in the Dorsey & Whitney report make it all too clear that our immigration system is shamefully broken and needs fixing before more innocent children are harmed.

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