A new report is adding fuel to a growing debate over the impact of deportations of illegal immigrants who have roots in communities and U.S.-born children. Between January and June of 2011, immigration officials deported more than 46,400 people who said they were parents of children who were born in the U.S. and therefore U.S. citizens, according to a new study for Congress prepared by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE.
No solid information exists to measure what happens to deported parents’ children. Some leave with their parents, others remain here with family members or on their own and some may go into foster care.
In 2009, the Department of Homeland Security issued a report with an estimate that about 100,000 parents of U.S. children were deported over the course of a decade between 1998 and 2007.
Congress directed ICE to begin tracking numbers to better gauge the extent of this phenomenon. The agency is complying, but officials say they do not verify each claim that a deportee has citizen children.
The new report, obtained by iWatch News from the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, prompted some Democratic Latino lawmakers to attack the Obama Administration over continuing deportations of people with children who are U.S. citizens.
Congressional Hispanic Caucus Chairman Charles Gonzalez, a Texas congressman, said in a statement that many deportees are members of “mixed status” families, where a spouse, not just a child, may be a legal resident or a U.S. citizen.
Undocumented parents also “comprise a labor pool that is vital to many American businesses,” Gonzalez said. He said ICE should focus on deporting people with serious criminal records. “I urge ICE to use its policy of prosecutorial discretion to prioritize deportation proceedings," Gonzalez said, "and then deport individuals that pose a danger to our communities.”
In response, ICE officials told iWatch News that they have already made it a priority to deport illegal immigrants they consider a threat, and they acknowledge that some may have U.S. citizen children. An ICE official said that most of the deported parents referred to in the March report — 74 percent — actually had criminal records. That information was not included in the report to Congress, and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus was not given that figure separately, caucus press secretary Lesley Lopez said.
While the U.S. Southwest is thought to have the greatest concentration of illegal immigrants, the Atlanta ICE office reported the greatest number — 2,249 — out of a group of 21,860 people nationwide who were given final court orders for deportation between January and June 2011. San Antonio was next with 1,836 who were ordered to leave, followed by Phoenix with 1,616 final orders for deportation.
Barbara Gonzalez, ICE press secretary in Washington, D.C., said that ICE uses “prosecutorial discretion” to release some parents from detention — pending their removal from the country — if they are the sole caregivers of minors who could be left alone.
“For parents who are ordered removed,” Gonzalez said, “it is their decision whether or not to relocate their children with them. If parents choose to take their U.S. citizen children with them, ICE assists in every way possible, including helping to obtain passports or when possible, allow for voluntary departure.”