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Deportation of a Parent Can Have Significant and Long-Lasting Harmful Effects on Child Well-Being, As a Pair of Reports from MPI and the Urban Institute Detail
Press Release
Monday, September 21, 2015

Deportation of a Parent Can Have Significant and Long-Lasting Harmful Effects on Child Well-Being, As a Pair of Reports from MPI and the Urban Institute Detail

WASHINGTON – Rising immigration enforcement in the U.S. interior over the past decade increased the chances that the estimated 5.3 million children living with unauthorized immigrant parents, the vast majority of them born in the United States, could experience the deportation of a parent. Between fiscal 2009 and 2013, nearly 4 million noncitizens were deported, perhaps half a million of them parents of a U.S.-citizen child.

Two reports released today by the Migration Policy Institute and the Urban Institute trace the effects that parental deportation can have on children, finding significant and long-lasting harm can occur at emotional, economic, developmental and academic levels.

One report, Implications of Immigration Enforcement Activities for the Well-Being of Children in Immigrant Families: A Review of the Literature, examines the evidence concerning the impacts of deportation and fear of deportation on unauthorized immigrant families and children. The economic and social instability that generally accompanies unauthorized status is further aggravated for children with a parent’s deportation, with effects including psychological trauma, material hardship, residential instability, family dissolution, increased use of public benefits and, among boys, aggression. In a prior Urban Institute study of six immigration raid sites, family income dropped an average of 70 percent during the six months following the arrest of a parent; nearly one-quarter reported parental hunger during that period. At the extreme end, some families became permanently separated as parents lost custody of or contact with their children.

The second report, Health and Social Service Needs of US-Citizen Children with Detained or Deported Immigrant Parents, offers findings from fieldwork in five study sites in California, Florida, Illinois, South Carolina and Texas, examining the involvement of families with a deported parent with health and social service systems, as well as their needs and the barriers they face accessing such services.

The researchers find that family economic hardship is highly prevalent following parental detention and deportation, while child welfare system involvement is rarer. Schools represent a promising avenue for interaction with these families and delivery of services, as school officials cannot inquire about immigration status and thus are perceived as safer intermediaries by unauthorized immigrant parents who may be skeptical of interaction with other government agencies. Other important sources of support include health providers, legal service providers and community- and faith-based organizations that immigrants trust.

Among the key findings:

  • The emotional and behavioral harms experienced by children following a parent’s detention or deportation were exacerbated by difficulty or inability to communicate with detained parents. Many of the spouses and partners of detained parents also reported suffering from depression and social isolation following the arrest, increasing the risk of poor cognitive and behavioral outcomes for their children.
  • U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) took actions intended to reduce harm to children with parents in custody, with a directive aimed at facilitating detainee communication with families and precautions to protect children during field enforcement operations.
  • Children with detained or deported parents had difficulty accessing conventional health, mental health, early education and social services, often because of limited availability or lack of provision in languages other than English. Participants in the fieldwork study reported that unauthorized immigrant parents might not apply for benefits for which their children — 85 percent of whom are U.S. citizens — are entitled because they fear interacting with government officials. They reported relatively more fear in communities where large numbers of people had been deported or where local law enforcement collaborated more closely with ICE.
  • There are successful examples of state, local and private organizations helping families apply for benefits. State and county social service agencies in some of the study sites developed ways to improve access to benefits for which children were eligible, including using bilingual staff to take applications over the phone in South Carolina and assisting parents in navigating public benefit applications in Florida and Texas. Head Start programs, public schools and community-based organizations in multiple sites provided mental health services to children who experienced emotional harm from a parent’s deportation. Services for parents, however, were harder to find.

The findings from the two studies suggest a number of ways to provide services and reduce harm to children with detained and deported parents. “Health and human service agencies could improve their staff’s language capacity, cultural competence and knowledge of issues associated with immigration status,” said Randy Capps, director of research for U.S. programs at MPI. “They also could build bridges with informal local organizations that immigrants trust, and coordination with federal immigration enforcement authorities and foreign consulates is critical, especially for the provision of child welfare services.”

Added Heather Koball, a senior fellow at the Urban Institute and co-author of both reports: “Our work has shown that small organizations implement many promising strategies to serve children with detained and deported parents, yet they often face limited resources and high staff turnover. Institutionalizing these and other effective strategies uncovered in our work would provide a stronger safety net for these children and families in need.”

The Obama administration has taken a series of steps to reduce the impacts of parental deportation by narrowing the priorities for immigration enforcement, increasing protections for parents in custody during removal proceedings and creating deferred action programs to shield certain unauthorized immigrants from deportation. The result has been a substantial decline in deportations from the U.S. interior within the past few years. One particularly promising avenue to reduce parental deportations, the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA) program, has been blocked by a federal judge following a challenge filed by 26 states.

The fieldwork report can be read at: www.migrationpolicy.org/research/health-and-social-service-needs-us-citizen-children-detained-or-deported-immigrant-parents

The literature review is available at: www.migrationpolicy.org/research/implications-immigration-enforcement-activities-well-being-children-immigrant-families

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The Migration Policy Institute (MPI) is an independent, non-partisan, non-profit think tank in Washington, DC dedicated to analysis of the movement of people worldwide. MPI provides analysis, development and evaluation of migration and refugee policies at the local, national and international levels. For more, visit www.migrationpolicy.org.

The non-profit Urban Institute is dedicated to elevating the debate on social and economic policy. For nearly five decades, Urban scholars have conducted research and offered evidence-based solutions that improve lives and strengthen communities across a rapidly urbanizing world. Their objective research helps expand opportunities for all, reduce hardship among the most vulnerable and strengthen the effectiveness of the public sector. For more, visit www.urban.org.