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Impact on Families of Mass Deportation

Values: The right to family unity is a basic human right

Governments have an obligation to respect and protect the right of families to stay together. In the immigration context, this means authorities should consider the impact on families of deportation decisions, weighing the right to family unity against other factors, including criminal convictions, recognizing that the impact on families of mass deportation can be severe.

Problem: Families are especially harmed by harsh US immigration enforcement

A decades-long experiment in aggressive policing and mass incarceration has put millions of people behind bars in the US, today; one in three people in America has some kind of criminal record. For immigrants in the US, including legal permanent residents, the consequences have been even more severe: not only convictions and jail time, but the drastic additional punishment of permanent deportation.

  • Families live in fear of separation.

    Some 16 million people in the US live in “mixed-status” families, in which at least one family member is a noncitizen, whether a green card holder or an undocumented immigrant. These families live with the fear that a brush with the law — including, say a conviction for shoplifting or drug possession — could result in their noncitizen relative being deported and permanently barred from gaining or keeping legal status. What opportunities exist for obtaining relief from deportation based on family hardship are unreasonably limited, excluding immigrants with any of a wide range of convictions.

  • Children are separated from their parents.

    Around 24 million immigrants live in the US today. Many have US-citizen children. A 2013 report found that 150,000 children had been separated from one or both parents as a result of US immigration policies. The same report found that children who experience the loss of a parent also suffer from poverty, reduced access to food and health care, and limited educational opportunities.  A 2011 study estimated that at least 5,100 children were living in foster care whose parents had been either detained or deported, with 15,000 more in similar circumstances in the next five years.

  • Families lose financial support.

    A 2012 Center for American Progress report noted that deportation is “a gendered process” — the disproportionate majority of deportees are male. This means that mass deportation creates a large number of single mothers trying to raise a family on a single income. Children in single-parent households are 4.2 times more likely to live in poverty than children with married parents.

Solution: Ensure that immigration policy respects family unity

  • Enact immigration reform that allows immigrants to obtain and keep legal status
  • Restore judicial discretion to allow immigration judges to weigh the impact on families in deciding whether to deport an immigrant with a criminal conviction
  • Scale back hyper-aggressive law enforcement, mass incarceration, and deportation policies that unfairly sweep up millions of people of color and, in the case of immigrants, funnel them into yet another dysfunctional, unjust system.
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