Having practiced deportation defense for nearly two decades, I’ve witnessed the agony of immigrants facing removal from the United States.

In most instances, they are faced with two unpleasant choices.

  • They can relocate their entire family to their home country, including those members born and raised in the U.S.
  • Or they can leave their family in the United States, while they return home, perhaps to never see them again.

Until recently, the plight of U.S. citizen children in the latter situation has been relatively unexplored.

Many of these children, once their immigrant parents have been taken in government custody, are placed in a foster care environment.

Their cries, born of forced separation from their parents, go unheeded.

Children Victims Of Our Broken Immigration System

Often, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency (ICE) refuses to allow these parents to participate in their children’s foster care cases – even though such proceedings can lead to loss of their parental rights and leave the children to languish in our child welfare system for many years afterwards.

To address this problem, California Congresswoman Lucille Roybal-Allard introduced The Help Separated Families Act, H.R. 6128, earlier this week.

The legislation has a simple goal: to keep immigrant families together.

“We can no longer ignore the human cost of our broken immigration system, said Roybal-Allard, in announcing her legislative proposal.

“People,” she added, “regardless of their immigration status, deserve to know that their children are cared for, and when possible, children should be able to remain under the care of a family relative instead of becoming a ward of the state.”

Over the past few years, this problem has been silently growing.

As deportation efforts have increased under the Obama administration, more and more U.S. citizen children have been placed in the child welfare system when their parents are detained by immigration officials. In some cases, the children are permanently separated when their parents are deported.

Roybal’s actions were inspired by the findings of a Colorlines investigative report, published in early November 2011.

In that report, it was revealed that at least 5,100 children in only 22 states, with parents in immigration detention centers or already deported, are currently living in foster care around the United States as a result of immigration policies. Many of the kids, the report stressed, will never see their parents again.

Given current immigration trends, the report also noted that over the next five years, 15,000 children of detained and deported mothers and fathers will likely be separated from their parents and placed in U.S. foster homes.

And, Colorlines stated, these totals are conservative estimates.

The Need For A Humane Approach To Deportation Policy

In the view of immigration reform advocates, the immigration status of a parent should not be made the sole reason to terminate parental rights. Under Roybal-Allard’s proposal, whether documented or undocumented, a parent, legal guardian, or family relative would be considered for home placement.

The legislation would also encourage state child welfare agencies to grant waivers for requirements that prevent a child from being placed with a relative on the basis of a minor legal infraction by the relative.

The current situation, emphasized Roybal, is “absolutely, unquestionably inhumane and unacceptable — particularly for a country that values family and fairness so highly.”

She’s right.

Young children should not be deported to foster care.

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