A Society That Doesn't Believe In The Family

By Juan Martinez 11-22-2011

"Shattered Families," a new report from the Applied Research Center on the status of U.S.-born children whose parents have been detained or deported by U.S. immigration agents, found that there are more than 5,000 American children who are in foster care and are unable to be reunited with their detained or deported parents.

Of course, this figure does not include children who have been left in the custody of relatives because their parents have been deported or detained by U.S. authorities. This situation has become increasingly problematic as the U.S. government has increased the number of deportations and detentions to record-breaking levels.

These children are U.S. citizens, so they cannot be deported. And yet the system is practically turning them into orphans.

The report, released on Nov. 3, also found that:

  • If nothing changes, 15,000 more children may face a similar fate in the next 5 years.
  • This is a growing national problem, not one confined to border jurisdictions or states-- ARC identified at least 22 states where these cases have emerged.
  • Families are more likely to be separated where local police aggressively participate in immigration enforcement.
  • Immigrant victims of domestic violence are at particular risk of losing their children
  • ICE detention obstructs participation in Child Protective Services' plans for family unity.
  • Most child welfare departments lack systemic policies to keep families united when parents are detained or deported.

An often used anti-immigrant argument says that the U.S.-born children of undocumented immigrants are “anchor babies," little more than attempts by their parents to guarantee their premanent stay in the United States. However, the “anchors” are clearly not working — the children’s undocumented parents are not allowed to stay.

Our government is setting these children adrift. According to U.S. Rep. Jose Serrano of New York, if this situation is not corrected, these children may be permanently separated from their families and adopted by others. 




The immigration system also has detained many undocumented minors. These children crossed the U.S. border without their parents, often with the goal of being reunited with their parents who already are living in the United States. These children are being detained, without the possibility of reuniting with their parents. Some of them are in a legal state of limbo and their undocumented parents are afraid of trying to come claim them.

This situation is particularly painful for me personally, because many of the people who are against fair and comprehensive immigration reform claim to be in favor of  “family values." Yet they are against exceptions to current U.S. deportation policies that would take into consideration the situation of children born here in the United States to parents who have entered the country illegally.

Sadder still is that many of the people who oppose such immigration exceptions for children are Christians who get angry when the political and social policies of this country attack the family. But it’s clear that their concern applies only to certain families — and not to poor or immigrant families.

It’s time to call on our sisters and brothers who support policies that separate families and leave children at the mercy of government systems to repent.

If we truly are pro-family, it’s time for us to demonstrate that it means all families, at all times, in all circumstances.

It’s time for us to look for a fair and just solution to the issue of undocumented parents and their U.S.-born children. If we are not prepared to work for them, then it’s time for us to recognize that our politics are more important to us than our family values and admit that we are not truly pro-family.

Dr. Juan Martinez is the Associate Dean for the Centro para el Estudio de Iglesia y Comunidad Latina (Center for the Study of Hispanic Church and Community) and Associate Professor of Hispanic Studies and Pastoral Leadership, School of Theology. His education includes an MDiv from Mennonite Brethren Biblical Seminary and ThM and PhD from Fuller Theological Seminary. 

Spanish-to-English translation by David Schmidt.
This post also appeared via Camino Ando Con Pueblo and Love The Stranger.


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