Disappearing Parents: A Report on Immigration Enforcement and the Child Welfare System

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University of Arizona        

When a parent is arrested or detained by immigration enforcement, the chances that they will ever regain custody of their children are low. This study enumerates a disparity in communication between immigration law enforcement and the child welfare system.

Currently there are no formal policies to address the cases of parents undergoing detention or deportation proceedings.

In the summer of 2010, the Southwest Institute for Research on Women (SIROW) conducted surveys and interviews with personnel in the Pima County Juvenile Court system in Arizona. Pima is a border county, with a population of roughly one million.

The results of the investigation suggest that once parents enter the immigration system, they tend to “disappear” and it becomes very difficult to track them down. They can also be reluctant to provide  information about relatives who might care for the children, afraid that the relative may be deported as well.

If they decide to fight the charges, they can be detained for months and in some cases even years.

There are timelines in place in the child welfare system that prevent a child from being returned to their parents after they have been in state care for a certain amount of time. This is not compatible with immigration cases, which are often long and unpredictable.

There are also problems with both systems taking advantage of services. The consulate of the parent’s home country, for example, can assist in communicating with family placements there,  among other things, but are only used in a very small number of cases.

To start bridging the disparities between the foster care and immigration systems, the study recommends increasing the use of parole, and other alternatives to detention for immigration cases that involve children. Detention facilities and access to services also need to be improved, the report states. Liaisons between the detention facilities and the child welfare system also need to be put in place.

The study recommends funding attorneys who specialize in representing immigrant parents with U.S. citizen children.

Free. 38 pages.  www.law.arizona.edu/depts/bacon_program/pdf/disappearing_parents_report_final.pdf