My Turn: On Fathers Day, a call to stop deporting immigrant fathers
For many immigrant children in New Hampshire, Fathers Day will be sad this year. Their parents have been detained or deported by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
The story of a Seacoast-area family illustrates the result of tearing immigrant families apart. In the Exeter area, a hardworking father had been employed for 10 years when he was detained and deported by ICE. He had no criminal history, and now his three children are deprived of their father. The mother, a U.S. citizen, wonders if she will be able to hold the family together: “My children, especially the younger two, have been crying a lot. They miss their father very much.”
This year should be one of hope for immigrant families expecting to benefit from the new immigration bill. Yet many families continue to live in fear, and many immigrant children are living without the parents they love. Why?
Under President Obama, deportations have soared to record levels, over 400,000 in 2012 alone. The deportations continue in 2013. The administration and ICE claim that their priority is deporting serious criminals. (Under U.S. law, undocumented presence in the country is classified as a civil violation, not a crime.) Nevertheless, ICE continues to deport peaceable immigrant parents who are working quietly to support their children. According to ICE data, 23 percent of immigrants deported between July 2010 and September 2012 had U.S. citizen children. Many more had noncitizen children left behind in the United States.
The result of ICE’s practices is disaster for the children of detained and deported immigrants. They lose the support and care of parents for reasons they cannot understand. In addition to experiencing emotional anguish, families lose financial support when a breadwinner is deported. If the remaining parent cannot fill the gap, the family may confront hunger and homelessness. Children in emotional distress cannot flourish in school. They may never recover from the trauma.
Especially now, immigrant families should not face this situation. Under the immigration reform bill making its way through Congress, many would be eligible for a pathway to citizenship. Separating children from their parents while this bill is being considered is particularly cruel.
The Obama administration’s accelerated detention and deportation campaign has spread fear in immigrant communities. Though claiming to be after serious criminals, ICE has indiscriminately swept up many others in immigrant neighborhoods. For example, last April, ICE agents raided a restaurant in Manchester. Although only looking for one person, the agents demanded identification from every customer, most them Latino. As a result of such racial profiling, many immigrants, including those with legal status, have become fearful and alienated. The cohesion of our communities suffers.
Immigrant detainees should be entitled to a legal defense. But unlike criminal defendants, they are not eligible for free legal assistance. Dehumanizing treatment, abysmal living conditions, inability to contact families, poor medical care, sexual abuse, and lack of due process are common in many ICE detention facilities. Fortunately, major abuses have not been reported in New Hampshire. But many New Hampshire detainees are transferred out-of-state to locations, where even their families may have problems finding them.
Whether from Latin America, Asia, Europe, or Africa, immigrants have strong family values. Many come to the U.S. to provide better lives for their children. Working long-hours at low-paid jobs and struggling with English, many immigrant parents never fully enjoy the benefits of life here. But they hope their children will have the opportunity to flourish.
This Fathers Day, we call on the Obama administration and ICE to stop tearing immigrant families apart. These families are an important part of our communities. They should feel safe and welcome.
Join us June 24 to 28 in locations across the state for a week of prayer, fasting, workshops and vigils to show support for immigrant families and send the message that we want “Not One More” detention or deportation in New Hampshire.
(Judy Elliott lives in Canterbury. For information about the “Not One More” Week of Action, contact the American Friends Service Committee, 224-2407.)