In the Wake of a Raid, How Do Families Survive?

What happens to family members, primarily children, who are U.S. citizens or permanent residents once one or both undocumented parents are swept up in a raid?

On February 2nd, the Urban Institute released a report, Facing Our Future: Children in the Aftermath of Immigration Enforcement.  Researchers at the Urban Institute examined the consequences of parental arrest, detention, and deportation on 190 children in six locations around the country.

The undocumented immigrants who are at the center of the debate on immigration reform have, for the most part, been here a long time.  Many of them have children. There are 5.5 million children who have one or more unauthorized immigrant parent. Three-quarters of them are U.S. citizens.

The Urban Institute study follows up on families that have been affected by an immigration enforcement action, in an effort to determine short-term and longer-term effects.

Not surprisingly, children experienced widespread behavioral changes, including disrupted eating and sleeping habits, anxiety, withdrawal, aggressiveness, and other behavioral changes as a consequence of the absence of a parent after an arrest.  These behavioral changes were experienced more often if the arrest occurred during a home invasion conducted by ICE agents.

The report also examined how families survive when one or both breadwinners lose their job as the result of an immigration enforcement action. 

For most of the sites studied, there was a very strong community response to help take care of the families of those arrested.  Immigrant family victims of raids received help from relatives, friends, churches and community groups.  Though immigrants who were arrested and released were not supposed to work, many eventually made their way into the informal labor market out of economic necessity. 

The undocumented worker/mixed status family population that was the subject of the study was, as one might expect, extremely motivated to work.  Even when one or both breadwinners lost their jobs as a result of arrest, many would not consider relying on public benefits.  One woman interviewed for the study said,

“I want them to see that I’m not a burden for anybody.  I don’t want to ask for anything, I know people can give you [things] but I won’t ask even if I’m drowning, even now that I have the water coming up to here, I haven’t done it.”

Indeed, undocumented immigrants are not eligible for public benefits.  However, their U.S.-citizen children are.  Even with an extreme aversion to public assistance, economic necessity pushed some to turn to public assistance -- Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (cash assistance) and food stamps -- so their children could eat and have shelter.  According to the report, more than one-quarter of all families studied received TANF more than six months after arrest, and nearly half were receiving food stamps.

This is another spinoff problem of our broken immigration system.  We are taking people who are highly motivated to work, who are the breadwinners for their family, and who are doing a fine job of providing for their family while at the same time helping to keep our economy going.  We are taking these people and jailing and removing them or releasing them but forbidding them to work.  To keep their kids from starving, they are forced to rely on public assistance to make ends meet.

This is just one more example of how, if we follow the policy prescriptions of mass deportation advocates, we’d better be prepared to pay a high price.  The Urban Institute studied just 85 families.  If we multiply by a million or two, the safety net benefit costs will add up.

It would be more logical to let the family breadwinner work legally and continue to provide for the family -- and in the process to provide business for other companies in our ailing economy, so those companies can continue to employ the breadwinners of more families.


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