Trump’s Immigration Raids: An Attack on Our Nation’s Children

By Wendy Cervantes

This article was originally published on Medium.

Over the years, I’ve had the opportunity to meet some incredible young heroes in my work as an advocate for immigrant kids and families. One of these heroes, Zury, just turned 6 last week. But rather than focus on celebrating her birthday, Zury and her siblings Roberto (10) and Luna (12), both U.S. citizens like her, have spent the past few weeks anxiously awaiting their mom’s annual check-in appointment with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) scheduled for Wednesday February 15.

ZuryZury and her siblings have been advocates since a young age, participating in immigrant rights rallies in their hometown of Denver as well as in Washington, D.C. Last year they even starred in a national PSA campaign aimed at highlighting the impact of immigrant enforcement on children. Therefore, they are all too familiar with the anxiety surrounding their mother’s annual check-in. But this time is different because last month President Trump issued an executive order that now makes their mother a priority for deportation. 

So, like millions of children around the country like them, Zury and her siblings are afraid.

Unfortunately, their fear is not unfounded. Last week the deportation regime promised by President Trump during his campaign was unleashed, creating chaos among whole communities. Contrary to the President’s former claim that he would primarily focus on deporting so-called “criminal aliens,” parents and other long-time residents have now become targets as well. The raids that swept through homes and workplaces across the country last week resulted in the detention and deportation of hundreds of immigrants, including many who had only committed minor violations or were simply taken into custody as bystanders unable to provide documentation. In the aftermath, children and families have been left to question their safety in the communities they love and call home.

The fact that a much larger group of immigrants are now being targeted is a reflection of controversial aspects of the president’s executive order. For example, the order significantly broadens the scope of enforcement priorities that previously safeguarded many parents and long-time residents whose only violation was living in the country without documentation. In fact, one of the first immigrants to be deported following the order’s introduction was Guadalupe Garcia de Rayos, mother of two U.S. citizen children, who was immediately apprehended and detained during her annual check-in with ICE in Phoenix.

Cases like Guadalupe’s and disturbing reports of ICE agents allegedly following school buses during last week’s raids also raise concerns over the Trump Administration’s adherence to existing protocols—-all of which have broad bipartisan support—-designed to mitigate the collateral harm to children as a result of immigration enforcement.

For example, a 2013 ICE policy known as the “parental interest directive” instructs ICE personnel to consider the use of prosecutorial discretion in cases involving a parent or legal guardian of a U.S. citizen or Lawful Permanent Resident minor child, as well as the primary caregivers of a minor (regardless of the minor’s immigration status). The directive also instructs ICE personnel to ensure that parents and legal guardians subject to deportation are able to make decisions regarding their child’s care, such as arranging guardianships or coordinating travel for their child to accompany them at the time of removal. Another critical policy restricts ICE’s ability to conduct enforcement actions in places considered “sensitive locations” such as schools, child care centers, hospitals, and places of worship in an effort to prevent fear of enforcement from deterring children and families from their daily routines.

The harm suffered by children who are separated from a parent due to deportation—or who simply live in fear of separation—are well documented, including impacts to their mental and physical health, economic security, and school performance.  Research shows that kids who witness their parent’s arrest, such as those present during last week’s home raids, are much more likely to suffer long-term behavioral changes. Children whose parents are detained or deported are also at risk of unnecessarily entering the child welfare system, an outcome that can have particularly dire consequences. Such consequences could become much more common if ICE fails to adhere to policies like the parental interest directive, which also provides specific protections for parents with children in the foster care system.

Make no mistake about it: Trump’s raids are not about getting tough on criminals. They are about terrorizing children, families, and communities. Kids like Zury represent the future of our country, and we are no safer or better off when any child is put in harm’s way. In America, no child should have to live in fear of losing a parent, and the president must be held accountable for ensuring his new policies do not needlessly traumatize our youngest citizens or tear families apart.

See NILC’s Know Your Rights materials for immigrant communities

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