Orphans of Deportation: Will the State Assume Custody of Thousands of Children?
Courtesy of the Fomperosa Garcia family via the Phoenix New Times
Mr. Fomperosa Garcia and his children. This man, a single father, was detained and deported without notice, while his three children (two of whom are minors) were left in the States. He had been deported several times before for his criminal charge. His federal misdemeanor crime was entering the country illegally using another person’s identity.
Vista, CA – It’s calculated that there are at least 3.95 million US citizen children whose parent(s) are undocumented immigrants. The Trump administration’s rhetoric about mass deportations has alarmed many families about the risk of separation.
There has been talk of evicting millions of illegals from the United States, no matter if they lived the majority of their lives here. At the start of 2017, Donald Trump gave an executive order to the Department of Homeland Security to revive agreement 287(g). This measure enables local state law enforcement to seize and deport illegal aliens; not only those with criminal records are targeted–but anyone among them who may in any way pose a threat to the security of the United States. The interpretation of that wording is left entirely up to the officers in charge.
Many undocumented people are preparing to face possible deportation at any time. Some, by joining together with immigrant rights groups, for the legal assistance they offer– others, by simply resigning and making plans back in their homelands. However, all undocumented immigrant parents are torn up about what will happen to their kids, who by being born on American soil–are granted permission to stay. The Migration Policy Institute estimates that between 2003 to 2013, about 3.7 million people were deported and between 20% to 25% had children born in the United States.
Many of the Mexican, South American and Central American immigrants crossing the Texas and California borders illegally are running from frightening gang violence, unstable governments, and a bleak future. They risk life and limb so that their future children can know a life of peace and prosperity in America. The thought of bringing their children back to all that discourages most from entertaining the fantasy of staying together. Many deportees never even get to make the decision of taking their family, as they are detained and deported without time to alert anyone.
Adoption by Family
Those actively preparing for the possibility of deportation are asking their older grown children to stay with the minors if they are forced back to the places they wished never to call home again. According to a Los Angeles Times article, Ms. Guadalupe Galindo, who has lived in the States for almost thirty years, has asked her twenty-four year old daughter to be the guardian of her two minor children should she be deported to Mexico. Others have asked uncles, aunts, and other family to prepare to assume legal guardianship of their underage children. Unfortunately, this puts some of the relatives in a difficult position, as many of them are undocumented as well. By adopting these children formally, they run the risk of deportation themselves.
Even if a familial adoption or guardianship does work out some of the time, what about families that have no such relatives? Where will those children end up?
Most probably, the many young children left behind by deported parents would end up in the foster system. In 2011, approximately 5,000 of the total children in foster care were children of detainees or deportees. Thousands of youngsters are flooding into a system that can barely handle the stress. Because immigrant detention and deportation can be so sudden–without any chance for the person to pack anything, say goodbye to family, or, most importantly–arrange for care of their kids, many children are forced into the foster care system by default. Something as simple as legal guardianship involves a formal investigation as to the physical, mental, social, and financial fitness of the would-be guardian to become a parental figure. The investigation takes time. And during the waiting time, these kids are left in the care of the state.
Worst of all, children of a single deported parent may be in limbo for days or weeks, not knowing what happened to their parent. School teachers in counties that comply with the 287(g) agreement are on high alert to look and listen for signs that their pupils might be amongst those orphaned by deportation. They connect the kids to CPS for placement in a shelter, group home or with a known relative until the courts decide their permanent custody situation, which very often ends up being foster care.
This is a truly tragic situation where the US law, which generally recognizes that it’s almost always in the best interests of the child not to be unnecessarily seized from its parents–intersects with an ever-more conservative immigration policy. Not only are parents deported without the chance to arrange for care of minor children, but their hope of reinstating their parental rights and custody will likely be dashed once the’ve been deported. Once legal guardianship or custody has been established in court, parental rights have been terminated. Also, petitioning for reinstatement of such rights requires presence in the country.
The only way for undocumented parents to ensure a safe future for their kids is to take simple, proactive steps. Two options are signing a power of attorney or appointing a trustworthy person for guardianship should be worst happen.
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