Back to News & Commentary

New Study Finds Immigration Policies Hurt Kids

Mariana Bustamante,
Immigrants' Rights Project
Share This Page
February 17, 2010

The Urban Institute released a new study earlier this month on the effects of immigration enforcement on children. Called “Facing our Future; Children in the Aftermath of Immigration Enforcement,” it builds on a previous study from 2007 that examined the immediate aftermath of immigration raids on the children of immigrants who were arrested, detained and deported.

There are an estimated 5.5 million children of unauthorized immigrant parents, three-quarters of whom are U.S. citizens. These children have been largely forgotten by policymakers in the immigration debate. This new study is an attempt to call attention to the physical and psychological damage immigration policies are having on children across the country.

Between 1998 and 2007, an estimated 100,000 immigrant parents of U.S. citizen children were deported from the U.S. The study looked at the effects of three types of enforcement actions by Immigration Customs and Enforcement (ICE) on 190 children in 85 families in six locations. Four of the locations had large-scale worksite raids, one was the site of home raids and the sixth site has a 287(g) agreement where local police officers enforce federal immigration laws and arrest people at their homes, places of work and on the street.

According to the study, all of the children of parents who were arrested during the enforcements actions experienced adverse behavioral changes, including changes in eating and sleeping habits, crying often, clinginess, fear, withdrawal, anxiety, aggression and anger.

One father who was arrested during a workplace raid in Van Nuys, California, explained how his children ages 6, 5 and 3, cried on a regular basis at night and had trouble sleeping. When he asked them: “What are you afraid of?” they simply said: “We’re just afraid.”

The worst effects on children happened in the sites where there were home raids. These situations are especially harmful because ICE doesn’t tend to apply alternative forms of detention for parents of small children or single parents during home raids, which typically result in small numbers of arrests. Instead of applying the same humanitarian guidelines ICE uses in workplace raids, it tends to take people and many parents into custody, resulting in lengthy separations from their children.

In the absence of immigration reform that would lead to hard-working parents adjusting their immigration status, the authors recommend the government develop alternatives to detention for parents of small children who don’t represent a danger to the community, nor a flight risk.

The ACLU has also argued for the expansion of supervised release for immigrants and worked closely with Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-Calif.) who sponsored a bill proving protections for children who are separated from their caregivers because of detention and deportation.

The authors also recommend that the government allow parents who have a valid claim to stay in the U.S. the opportunity to work while their immigration cases are being adjudicated. This will reduce the economic hardship to a family that would otherwise suffer housing losses and food scarcity.

While the government can enforce immigration laws, no child should have to experience being woken up in the middle of the night by strangers demanding their parents supply proof of citizenship.