Tanvi Misra is a staff writer for CityLab covering immigrant communities, housing, economic inequality, and culture. She also authors Navigator, a weekly newsletter for urban explorers (subscribe here). Her work also appears in The Atlantic, NPR, and BBC.
A new report details the devastating psychological and economic impacts.
"We have a lot of bad dudes, as I said. We have a lot of really bad people here," Trump said. "I want to get the bad ones out … And by the way, they're never coming back."
Not only is Trump’s plan economically and logistically unviable, it shows that the Republican presidential hopeful has little understanding of the damaging effects that deportation has on family members left behind. A new report by the Migration Policy Institute and the Urban Institute highlights the economic and psychological distress that children of U.S. deportees have faced after deportation proceedings were initiated against their parents.
Between 2003 and 2013, some 3.7 million U.S. immigrants have been deported, and according to estimates, 25 percent of these deportees had U.S.-born children. MPI and UI conducted interviews with several detained immigrant parents, their families, organizations that provide social services, and lawyers, as well as Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials in California, Florida, Illinois, South Carolina, and Texas.
Below are some highlights of what these interviews found:
Children of deportees face significant psychological problems
Seeing their parents taken away by authorities is, of course, traumatic for immigrant children. But many arrests happen outside the home. The kids don’t see this happen, and, at times they aren’t told about it by remaining family members. (The stigma and trauma surrounding deportation discourage immigrants from discussing it openly.) In these cases, kids don’t completely understand why one of their parents is missing.
Here’s how the report explains it:
From the child’s perspective, the parent had simply disappeared one day after going to work or dropping him or her off at school.
As a result of the trauma they’ve experienced, kids might stop eating, start pulling out hair, or suffer stress-induced stomachaches and headaches, the report says. Some children take to even more destructive behaviors, such as cutting, abusing substances, or other types of self-inflicted harm.
Economic conditions worsen, and children bear the brunt
Of all the U.S. immigrants deported from 2002 to 2013, 91 percent were men. Since men tend to be the primary breadwinners in immigrant households, their detention or removal from the country places significant financial stress on their families. The parent left behind—the mother, in most cases—has to juggle financial and child care responsibilities, and is often unable to handle both.
One South Florida mother told researchers she had to take on a night shift to buy things like soap and shoes, at the expense of leaving her kids alone while they slept. Other women reported making similarly hard choices to put food on the table. “People see that I’m worried and ask how I am. I say nothing is the matter. But, we don’t have anything to eat,” the report quotes one saying.
Families of deportees can experience up to a 90 percent drop in income, Randy Capps, MPI’s research director and one of the authors of the report, said in a news conference. This sudden drop in resources can force families out of their homes, lead them to trust their children with ill-equipped relatives, or cause their children to drop out of school. All these changes can jeopardize any remaining normalcy in a child’s life.
Access to public benefits becomes restricted
U.S.-born children of deportees are eligible for public benefits but often don’t get them. One reason is that the remaining parent might be too scared to claim these benefits on behalf of their kids for fear of interacting with authorities. The instability caused by the economic hardships creates other barriers, too. Here are some of them, via the report:
Moving led to interruptions in health and social service delivery for children, especially if moving to a new jurisdiction required the reestablishment of children’s benefits eligibility. Uncertain guardianship also interfered with benefit eligibility determination. If a child lived informally with a relative or friend after a parent’s arrest, this informal guardian might not have the legal right to apply for benefits on the child’s behalf.
The Obama administration has implemented some policies to ease the burden of deportations on U.S.-born children. But while deportations from inside the country have fallen, those near the border have risen since Obama’s first term:
Early in 2015, Obama announced his Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents program to shield eligible unauthorized immigrants (especially ones with families) from deportation. But the program remains in judicial limbo, along with the fate of thousands of immigrant families in the country.