In many cases, when undocumented immigrants enter the US, they bring their families with them. When parents are discovered by immigration authorities and deported, this can create a family tragedy if the children are left behind. According to some experts, there are more than 5000 immigrant children in foster care because their parents were detained or deported due to lack of legal status in the US.
What happens to these children is troubling. In many cases, they remain in the foster system for years. In some cases, the parents’ custody rights expire, the children can be put up for adoption. For some children, the child welfare system is the end result. According to the advocacy group First Focus, the system is causing many problems, including lack of support for the children, and broken homes. The current system is also costing taxpayers money.
According to the Applied Research Center (ARC), the system often means that families are broken up. Parents who have been deported or who are in immigration custody often cannot see their children or attend hearings to protect their custody rights. In most cases, the requirements for regaining custody of the children simply cannot be met when parents are in jail or deported.
In many cases, the ARC argues, parents do not know their rights. In fact, parents can retain a lawyer to fight for their custody rights. They can also ask for their children to be returned to them during deportation or can request that children be placed with family living legally in the US. Parents in these situations can also ask that the children be permitted to return to their country of origin, but in many cases families are unaware of these options.
In many cases, children who are born to undocumented parents are born in the US and have US citizenship by birthright. This means that while the parents can be deported, the children have every right to remain in the US. According to the ARC, 46 000 parents who had US citizen children were deported in the first six months of 2011 alone.
In some cases, social workers indicate that children who are US citizens but are born to undocumented immigrants may be better off in the US. In many cases, parents may be returning to extreme poverty in their home countries and may have fewer economic options than foster families, which creates an ethical dilemma. In cases where parents are detained or deported, they may also not be working or making adequate money to support a family, which according to the ARC, the North Carolina Immigrant Rights Project, and other experts may lead social workers and judges to conclude that the welfare of the child would be better served in foster care. However, many experts argue that the primary concern should be to re-unite families, as this is the basis of the immigration system.
Some legislators are working on bills to help protect children in these situations. In the meantime, the North Carolina Immigrant Rights Project suggests that undocumented workers have emergency plans for their children. This can include power of attorney, signed with a trusted family member of friend, or other plans which can help protect the children in the event that parents are detained or deported.