Foster Care, Immigration and Where We are Headed

Four years ago we were foster parents to two wonderful children whose family was broken up by deportation.

The parents had overstayed their visas (ie, they entered the US legally), in part because their children were both born (while in the US, ie the children were citizens) with kidney disease and their homes in rural Central America had no hospitals to treat them nor adequate medical care. They left their country because they were part of a disenfranchised indigenous minority that was historically denied access to things like education - they could do better in the US. They also were a religious minority (evangelical Christian) in their largely Catholic country, and were thrilled to have the opportunity to send their daughter to Christian private school - their mother continued to work multiple jobs to pay for their daughter's private education.

The father was deported after a routine traffic stop, and then their mother cared for them alone, giving birth to her second child in isolation, apart from her husband for her children's sake. CPS intervened because their mother was leaving the six year old in charge of her 18 month old sibling while she worked two jobs - because she was afraid a daycare provider would inform on her to INS. That is, the only "crime" she committed in the US was caused by her fear of deportation.

In the end, the entire family elected to return to their country together, rather than be permanently separated, even though that meant that both children might suffer or die because of their ongoing chronic conditions that they were unlikely to be able to treat or afford to treat. I will never know what happened to my foster son and daughter - if they are well, or even alive. I simply hope they are.

Anyone who has held a sobbing child whose parents have been ripped from them by police knows how much unnecessary pain we are speaking of, how much trauma and damage is inflicted by removal. It should only be done as a last resort, when there is no safe way for the children to live in their families. And in states like mine, already drowning in children who need care, with too few homes and too few resources to handle kids who really need to be there, the wave of children of deportation will threaten disaster

No state, no agency, no resource in the US is prepared for this policy of deportation. No state has enough homes - if President Trump deports, as he has stated he will, 2-3 million people, numbers of children in care could easily double. Most states already have too few non-English speaking homes. Most states already have too many bad, dangerous foster homes that will get more children because there's no where else to put them. Most states already have too few foster homes that can or will support reunification even in difficult situations like international reunification. Most states already have children who shouldn't be there being placed in shelters, juvenile detention, even sleeping in offices, because they have no where else to put them. WE ARE GOING TO DROWN. Children are going to suffer.

Now we also know that the current administration's stated policy is going to be the separation of children from their families - that this will not be an accidental consequence, and the children will not be going home with their parents, unlike my former foster children. Instead, children will most likely be summarily separated as has been reported. "Officials said that under the measure, parents crossing the border with their children would await deportation orders under detention, while children would be placed in protective custody.
Family units are normally released after being caught by border enforcement officials while they await immigration proceedings, due to regulations prohibiting the long-term detention of minors."

The child welfare system already struggles with these problems. And most states are currently struggling with a vast shortage of homes, due to the heroin epidemic. In my area, we are chronically short of homes for children whose parents REALLY CAN'T take care of them - adding thousands or hundreds of thousands (Trump has said he plans to deport 2-3 million) of DACA and citizen children thrown into the child welfare system will DROWN IT. The boat is already shaky, and it is about to be swamped. This policy is a disaster for children, for child welfare, and for foster parents.

More importantly - what happens after the initial removal? Some states permit undocumented relatives in the US to take custody and even adopt the children left behind by deportation, others do not. In fact, federal policy on this is pretty unclear - states are operating in the absence of clarity. Consider this article and this one both from around the same time but from two different state. In Michigan, the understanding is that federal policy was that children who lose parents to deportation CANNOT be placed with other relatives who lack legal immigrant status. "Judge Donald Shelton, who oversees these kinds of cases, said the intersection of federal immigration enforcement and the child welfare system is where some of the ugliest battles take place.

"These situations are awful legal and human conundrums," said Shelton, chief judge of the Washtenaw County Circuit Court.

Shelton has been on the bench when tough decisions had to be made about children who are U.S. citizens and whose undocumented parents were detained or deported by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement for being in the country illegally.

The first time an undocumented immigrant is caught in the U.S., it's a misdemeanor civil offense. Being caught a second time is a felony."

In Texas, however, the understanding was that you CAN, that said parents can even adopt. Both are based on state understandings of the same federal policy. I suspect

Legally, abandonment is one of the fastest ways to lose permanent custody of your children - six months of no visits or substantive contact justifies termination of parental rights, and parents deported and barred by felony prosecution from re-entry, or in detention cannot make substantive contact easily, or afford the expensive international lawyers required to address custody issues. Either charging abandonment or allow ASFA to expire at 15 months will likely mean that most cases go to termination of parental rights fairly quickly (which is already happening). Overwhelmed child welfare workers are unlikely to take the complicated route, trying to reunify internationally - termination will be the rule. Which means potentially hundreds of thousands more children without parents.

I have no doubt that Americans, faced with an enormous crisis in child welfare will step up to adopt the younger, cuter children. But doing so will functionally deprive thousands and thousands of children from healthy families that just happened to be undocumented with ties to their culture, language, history and biological family. The children will be traumatized and damaged by this, as will their families, and that damage will play out in subsequent generations. We've seen this before - we saw it in the Native American Boarding Schools, in the selling off of Black children in slavery - the violent disruption of healthy families is incredibly destructive, and it comes back to haunt us for many years.

Some of this may be unintendend consequences, but much of it, I fear, will be intended. The current administration, AS POLICY wants to end multi-culturalism in the US, and wants to remove immigrants it sees as threatening, and assimilate them into majority culture if they can't remove them - this will serve both goals. And many of those responding for the best of reasons, even those who oppose the administration's goals, may in fact functionally support them.

What to do? First, notice it, speak out, point it up - this kind of cultural destruction has a long and terrible history. See it, name it, protest it.

Second, if you've ever thought about being a foster parent, now is the time. But be the kind of foster parent who supports first family rights, who keeps kids in contact with their family, community, culture. Stand against the wave of assimilation. Don't adopt unless you can support children in retaining who they are - and understand what that means. Especially consider fostering if you speak another language, are part of a minority faith, or are members of an immigrant community so that children can stay in their culture.

Third, act forcefully in your community to discourage cooperation with ICE at every level - sanctuary cities are one step, but encourage your state Office of Children in Foster Care (or whatever it is called in your state) to create guidelines that help workers work with families, rather than having to report them. Ask your state to create policy allowing children to be placed with relatives regardless of their immigration status - family is best unless there's a compelling reason.

Protest racist immigration policies at every level. Speak up. Remember, there are thousands of children who are unseen and unheard of and a part of this story.


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This was my first thought on hearing about the deportations: where will all the children go? The very luckiest will have an older sibling who is a US citizen and over 18. But what about that person? What if they were tying to be the first in their family to graduate from college?

This is cruel beyond measure. And it highlights with neon lights the hypocrisy of policy makers who claim to be all about the family, but go out of their way to destroy families.

By JustaTech (not verified) on 07 Mar 2017 #permalink

I can't think of a quicker way to radicalize an individual than to break up their family and to treat their parents unjustly.

By L'Angelomisterioso (not verified) on 10 Mar 2017 #permalink