The Perilous Intersection of Immigration Enforcement and the Child Welfare System
November 26, 2011 2:06 PM   Subscribe

Shattered Families, a new report from the Applied Research Center, has found that there are at least 5,100 children currently living in foster care who are prevented from uniting with their detained or deported parents. Executive Summary(PDF) and Full Report(PDF)

Key Findings:
  • If nothing changes, 15,000 more children may face a similar fate in the next 5 years.
  • This is a growing national problem, not one confined to border jurisdictions or states-- ARC identified at least 22 states where these cases have emerged.
  • Families are more likely to be separated where local police aggressively participate in immigration enforcement.
  • Immigrant victims of domestic violence are at particular risk of losing their children.
  • ICE detention obstructs participation in Child Protective Services' plans for family unity.
  • Most child welfare departments lack systemic policies to keep families united when parents are detained or deported.

  • The Impact of Immigration Enforcement on Child Welfare

    Disappearing Parents: A Report on Immigration Enforcement and the Child Welfare System from the University of Arizona

    Family Separation & Parental Rights from the Women's Refugee Commission
    posted by Blasdelb (19 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
    Family values!
    posted by entropone at 3:22 PM on November 26, 2011

    I really, really hope this thread goes well. An opportunity to show we can have a civilized discussion on the topic would be great and fly n the face of all the holiday grar.
    posted by Jaymzifer at 3:53 PM on November 26, 2011

    Between this study and the recently brought to light study about Native American children in foster care in South Dakota, we're finally starting to take a good hard look at exactly how we treat those members of our society which some claim are the only true thing of value in our culture.

    Sadly, our culture doesn't actually seem to regard children and their relationships with their families as being of value, especially not when there's an "other" involved. It's sad that we talk out of both sides of our mouth about issues like this. I'd rather see our rhetoric match our actions, hopefully in favor of the good rather than the bad.
    posted by hippybear at 4:00 PM on November 26, 2011 [7 favorites]

    There is definitely an easy parallel,

    Incentives And Cultural Bias Fuel Foster System in South Dakota previously
    posted by Blasdelb at 4:08 PM on November 26, 2011 [2 favorites]

    I hope everyone reads at least the executive summary and the University of Arizona's report. I'm not sure if there are numbers to support my own anecdotal observations (a quick literature search didn't pull up anything that looked solid) that this human rights issue is especially pertinent around the US holiday season--but my sense of it, from working outreach clinics, is that it is. The invisibility of these families and these children is beyond, even, the invisibility of low SES US citizen families, which seems impossible.

    So I work a lot of outreach clinics--pediatric health assessments. I do this in Ohio, in a big city also known for its strong Somali refugee population. I am all over the city, mostly in places that have to arrange for actual manned security for me to provide healthcare to children--especially in winter when it gets dark so fast (the security, again, for me not for these little kids!). Some of these are ad hoc clinics, hastily arranged by community organizers who are trying to get numbers (like numbers of kids utterly without basic healthcare. They love my numbers--numbers representing little kids with third world healthcare problems in the middle of Ohio) to identify themselves as neighborhoods that need regional attention. Some of these are well known organizations like Head Start (preschool), who have a mix of middle income, low income, immigrant, and refugee kids and families. Some of these are Somali refugee schools who bring someone like me in to try provide some health checks and balances within the large refugee system.

    I had been keeping some rough numbers of larger categorical health issues I have been finding--like heart murmurs. After I had a kind of rough cut of all these heart murmurs, more murmurs than I ever auscultate in private practice, I started reading and asking other providers with this general question--why all these murmurs in these kids? Right now, it looks like the most reasonable explanation is that these populations are chronically anemic, which increases turbulence in the heart's great vessels. So here, right in the middle of an affluent Ohio big city, we have this population of kids barely hanging on to 3rd percentiles on growth charts and with enough food insecurity to make their hearts noisy.

    This is just to underscore some very basic invisibility for a 3rd class citizenship of people. Five miles away from a private practice where child obesity is the most concerning morbidity, child malnourishment is the most concerning. Layered over that are the children of immigrants in foster care arrangements, who I see with not a little frequency and was even surprised to see that the documented numbers (from the FPP articles) were around 1% (which feels low to me). It makes me wonder how official a lot of the care arrangements I am seeing actually are, who actually knows where these children are living, and why. More frustrating is that I'll often run into the same kid, but not with the same family, and certainly not with their parents. Often, in these clinics, kids will show up with older kids, or on their own and no one knows for sure where they should be or if they are, in fact, in the foster care system.

    Even more frustratingly, for immigrant children (or children of immigrants), is that regardless of their foster placement, their extended families remain very organized and present. It is not unusual to exam a kid where both the foster parent and immigrant aunt or uncle or adult cousin is present. Shockingly, the foster parent often communicates that their intent is foster-adopt. The FPP's observation that loving adult family members are available is spot on--it is true that they are sometimes undocumented, but I've also seen this situation where the foster parents and the family have said that the extended family IS documented. These children are nothing more than chattel to the local system, which is so confusingly regulated and organized that it isn't unusual for preschool teachers (for example) to have no idea exactly who to call to gain permission for an exam. I've had organizers actually call law enforcement to try to figure it out.

    From my small perspective, refugee children are within a much more organized system, even while their healthcare problems are often astounding after living in holding camps for years (usually being born into these camps, for example). There is a well known process, both official AND underground, for keeping families together. While I may see a seven-year-old with uncorrected tetralogy of fallot (in the midwest!!), they have never been separated from their parents despite war, famine, and a camp birth. How is this possible, when a tight knit family from just over the border who come here for work are scattered and isolated within months?

    Part of my job in pediatrics is advocacy, but it is difficult to advocate for a population that often, officially, doesn't exist. They are ghost children, haunting whatever household they are exorcised to, and their parents are obviously regarded by local government to be soulless numbers.

    Any of my mefi neighbors who would like to volunteer help out at one of these clinics, to understand for yourselves, just let me know.
    posted by rumposinc at 4:10 PM on November 26, 2011 [24 favorites]

    So what's the proposed solution to this problem? I watched part of the video but did not exhaustively comb through the links. So if a solution is given, I'd like to hear what it is.
    posted by parrot_person at 4:15 PM on November 26, 2011

    So what is your solution, rumposinc? To allow all immigrant parents who are here illegally to be given a pass? To be made legal? Are there any requirements for them or should it just be immediately granted?
    posted by parrot_person at 4:18 PM on November 26, 2011

    Certainly part of the solution, just like with the problems involving Native American children and the foster system, should be to allow non-parental family members to have custody of the children and not have them in foster care.
    posted by hippybear at 4:24 PM on November 26, 2011 [2 favorites]

    parrot_person, from my perspective, and the basis of Women's Refugee Commission, there is a major paradigm shift that has to happen as far as regulation, based on the fact that current systems have not recognized that children are a special population, regardless of the documentation status of their caregivers. Children have very specific needs, recognized by evidenced bodies like American Academy of Pediatrics, for their environments in order to achieve reasonably healthy development. This population assumption is fully accepted by the federal system that oversees refugees, for example, and is why efforts are made to maintain familial units.

    Recently, there have been similar paradigm shifts for the "aging out" problem of foster children approaching their 18th birthdays, and after several piloted systems, aging out can be delayed until advocates for the young adult determine they can graduate the system (like if they want to go to college or vocational school). Similarly, children of immigrants require more oversight to maintain their own attachments, and programs could be developed to oversee the families on a case by case basis (similarly to what happens in foster care) within immigration regulation. The point is that maintaining familial environments is required to maintain human rights and the proper development of children and this is the piece that confusing oversight has run hogshed over.
    posted by rumposinc at 4:27 PM on November 26, 2011 [5 favorites]

    I read everything you wrote and I still can't tell specifically what your solution is. A "paradigm shift" is pretty vague. Do you want all "undocumented workers" made legal? If so what would be process be? Just the parents? If you still want our existing laws to mean something, how would you handle when a parent is arrested or deported? In the situation described in the video, what would you have had happen? To keep the children with the parents in detention? To deport all of them more quickly rather than it taking 4 months? To simply give the women a pass because they were parents?
    posted by parrot_person at 4:30 PM on November 26, 2011

    For 40 years, people have been trying to get Congress to implement a single, unified approach to foster care. For 40 years, we have failed to implement a unified approach to foster care. As a result, the foster care laws vary from state to state and their enforcement varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. As a result, you can literally have two adjacent counties enforcing the same state laws in two different ways. It is ridiculous.

    I have been a foster parent for several years and am now seriously considering closing our license because our youngest, adopted from foster care, needs so much focus right now. I'm not going to close because the system is broken even though it is.

    Case workers are over worked. Departments are underfunded. The regulations are not applied equally and the child is NOT always put first despite what is claimed. The study hippybear refers to, along with this one just makes me sick. Individual cases make me angry.

    For my little one, half the family was documented or US citizens. The other half were illegal. They would not agree to prove paternity and the alleged father returned to Mexico. He was not involved with ICE. As a result, that entire family was eliminated for consideration for placement of this child. The few maternal relatives (all US Citizens) who were available either failed home studies or rejected the opportunity to take this child. That is what opened the door to our adoption.

    Are we thrilled to add this child to our family permanently? Hell yes! Do we wish that this child could have been reunited with family. Most definitely. The two are not mutually exclusive. We've had two previous foster children reunited with their Mom and went into foster care with the intention of caring for the children only as long as we were needed.

    Family members should always be looked at for care of the children first regardless of their immigration status. Individuals who become foster parents only because they intend to adopt should reconsider why they are doing it. As hard as it is, they should first support reunion with family.

    Seriously, if my child's maternal grandmother had said "Yes" to stepping up, I would have been thrilled. As it is, we're left not understanding why she said "No" for two years and still wants nothing to do with her grandchild.

    (Sorry for the ramble. I need to go take my sleepy little one up to bed and got a bit distracted and impassioned by this post.)
    posted by onhazier at 4:33 PM on November 26, 2011 [6 favorites]

    I thought he said let the children be with documented relatives rather than foster care. Wasn't that clear? Aside from that not separating children from parents seems like a necessary goal regardless of immigrant status.
    posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 4:34 PM on November 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

    Parrot_person, I think that onhazier's experience and SAoftheB's clean up of my main thought and are very much on point--I am sorry if I confused. By paradigm shift, I mean that currently, like onhazier's personal experience illustrates, the consideration is not for the child, but for the enforcement of what are often confusing and inconsistent regulations meant to corral adults. If I had anything to add, it would be that where there is a child involved in an immigration case, the case should be individually evaluated to protect the child's relationship with his/her family regardless of whether the foster care system is currently involved with the child.

    Onhazier thanks for taking the time to tell your story--it personalizes what I see and hear about in clinic and helps focus where my advocacy energies.
    posted by rumposinc at 4:43 PM on November 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

    rumposinc, with the mefite group that we've got, I think clinic outreach would make a fantastic meetup. I'll see if I can drag my housemate who works in Volunteer Outreach for the City along.
    posted by Blasdelb at 4:55 PM on November 26, 2011

    And I would say, too, that given experiences like those explicated and documented in the Applied Research Center's full report as well as personal accounts like onhazier's, our existing laws already don't mean much of anything. The laws are regulated and applied utterly without consistency or consideration of their intent (all the way down to the most local of levels), even when taken separately from the rights of children and families.
    posted by rumposinc at 4:57 PM on November 26, 2011

    Blasdelb--there are a few different kinds. Where volunteers are the biggest help are at our larger events that require checks-ins and for guardians to fill out paperwork. I'll check in to see when the next clinic like that is.
    posted by rumposinc at 5:00 PM on November 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

    Parrot_person, these systems are so disorganized that they can't even figure out what to do with the kids if one or more parents are in detention pending removal, or even worse have a presumption against reunification. The "solution" for the purposes of this discussion has nothing to do with resolving the status of illegal aliens, and everything to do with getting the child protective systems in this country sorted out so they can put the priorities of the kids first. That means a lot of things, inter-agency and inter-governmental cooperation and basic human decency being some of them.

    It means ICE shouldn't send a father with three US citizen kids who lives in California to Texas for two years of detention pending removal. It means that the non-detained parent, if there is one, shouldn't have an automatic black mark against when it comes to retaining custody. It means having sufficient legal know-how to figure out a status for the kids that will allow them, if they and the parents want it, to follow the parents back to their home country, including claiming citizenship and right of residency in that country if it's available. And it means that the courts should NEVER prioritize an adoption for no reason other than that the prospective adoptive parent is a US citizen while the birth parents are not. State courts are frequently locked in this absurd pattern where they presume that remaining within that state, and failing that within the United States, is better than any other option. That needs to stop.
    posted by 1adam12 at 9:26 PM on November 26, 2011 [3 favorites]

    This situation is an intentional component of the modern fascist agenda. Fear for their children's lives and safety is intended firstly to deter poor third-worlders from entering first-world nations, and secondly to keep those who are illegally present in a state of fear, so that their labor may be more easily exploited and so that they will not use social services.

    Just ask yourself, "what would I do if I were completely and absolutely selfish" and first-world immigration policy will make a lot more sense.
    posted by aeschenkarnos at 2:44 AM on November 27, 2011 [2 favorites]

    the solution is to take away the economic incentive of ICE private prisons. get rid of all private prisons or privately-managed prisons in the first place. this doesnt just apply to ICE but to all the judicial system in this country. it's become another ATM for the military-industrial complex not a system of checks & balances.
    posted by liza at 9:42 AM on November 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

    « Older A soul-sucking demon learns a valuable lesson in...   |   That mysterious entity that is evoked so often –... Newer »

    This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments