by Regina Cantu
It’s a story we often hear but may not always sympathize with — immigrants who are living in the U.S. illegally are detained and sent back to their home countries. Often they are forced to leave their families behind, including U.S.-born kids. But Kelli Valdez’s article for the Chicago Tribune is a reminder of the damage that deportation, and the forced separation of a family, causes to children.
According to Valdez, the separation creates an “angry generation” of children who were traumatized but still choose to stay in the U.S. rather than face potential poverty, violence, and cultural and language barriers in their country of origin. For some, advocates say, life in America is all they know.
Apparently these kids aren’t considered “American enough” for this to be a concern. I’ve heard several anti-immigrant spokespeople claim there’s no reason parents should “get off the hook just because their kids are put in a difficult position,” that “children often suffer because of the mistakes of their parents.” But this doesn’t excuse the failure of federal policies to provide legal protection for child migrants. There is a definite void in immigration law in terms of the best interest of the child: 90 percent of underage migrants don’t have a lawyer, as estimated by the Immigrant Child Advocacy Project.
More than 5 million children currently live in the US with at least one undocumented parent and 3.1 million of these children are citizens of the US. Parents of these children are in danger of deportation or detention, putting the families at risk of separation, emotional stress and economic hardship. Recent reports have shown the severe effects of raids and parental arrests on children, such as difficulty sleeping, nightmares, anxiety, increased levels of crying, eating less, fear of law enforcement officials, temporary drop in school performance, and aggression.
Separating these families is wrong, but not just because of how detrimental it is on the children. It is wrong because in so many cases, these kids have fully integrated themselves into American society. If allowed to stay, these children will contribute to it and be upstanding citizens, joining the workforce and become productive, patriotic Americans.