Children are Still at Risk from Harmful Immigration Enforcement Practices

By Hannah Liu

A new report released by the Center for Law and Social Policy and UnidosUS reveals that this nation’s immigration enforcement practices and policies continue to impact every part of families’ lives–from their physical health to their ability to buy groceries and send kids to school. Numerous studies document how detention and deportation destabilize families’ economic security, housing stability, and health. Beyond that, the fear of deportation permeates communities–preventing families from thriving and children from realizing their full potential. Kids with at least one undocumented parent live with the constant fear of being separated from one or both of their parents, which hinders their development and disrupts their education.

The new report highlights how the Biden Administration has made some attempts to reform interior immigration enforcement practices and dismantle some of the policies of the previous administration. However, the administration’s efforts have largely been blocked by the courts. Moreover, many positive policies, such as the strengthened parental interest directive and protected areas policy, are at risk of being overturned in the future. That’s why it’s imperative for the Biden Administration to act swiftly to institute policies that mitigate harm to immigrant families and shield them in future years, as well as lay the groundwork for a more just immigration system. The report recommends policy reforms at the Congressional, administrative, and state/local levels. Overarching recommendations for the Biden Administration include:

  1. Adopting policies that prioritize the wellbeing and unity of families and children. Implementing the strengthened parental interest directive was a step in the right direction to uphold parental rights and lower the risk of family separation, but our nation must take additional steps to uphold the best interest of the child. For example, families must be kept together and out of detention. And in every immigration enforcement action that may impact children, we must put specific requirements in place to determine the safety and wellbeing of those children. In addition, the administration must continue to improve the parental interest directive to include a presumption of release and cancellation of removal for parents of minor children.
  2. Disentangling the criminal legal system from the immigration system. Many of today’s punitive immigration policies are a result of policies created in the 1990s, such as the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1996 (IIRIRA). This bill instituted harsher penalties for immigration violations and further intertwined immigration with criminality, creating an arrest-to-deportation pipeline rife with xenophobia and racial profiling. While many of the laws created under IIRIRA must be changed legislatively, the administration can begin to dismantle this pipeline by terminating all current agreements between Immigration and Customs Enforcement and local law enforcement to enforce federal immigration laws and limit future collaboration between police and immigration enforcement.
  3. Building systems of support toward a more just immigration system. In the short term, the actions described above will work together to reduce the harm caused by current interior enforcement policies. However, making fundamentally punitive systems less harsh won’t allow families to thrive in the long term. We must dismantle systems centered in punishment, surveillance, and detention to make way for systems centered in care and community. The Biden Administration has an opportunity to begin paving the way toward a more just future by dedicating resources to researching and implementing community-based alternatives to detention, such as the Family Case Management Program.

With its first term nearing a close, the Biden Administration should recommit to earlier promises to limit the use of immigration enforcement practices that separate families or put them in harm’s way. All immigrants, whether they have lived in the United States for years or are newly arriving, are human beings who deserve safety, stability, and the opportunity to contribute to their communities. Our policies must reflect their humanity and form a framework that allows them to thrive.