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Separated from a Detained or Deported Parent, Children Tell Stories of Anguish

July 02, 2012 - Posted by Guest

A post by National Immigration Forum communications intern Minola Fernando.

“Deportation is bad.”

This simple phrase and a drawing of a sad little girl and her mother watching her father walk away is the view of deportation from the eyes of Milca, a 12-year-old girl whose own father was deported in 2007.

Between 1997 and 2007 more than 100,000 children in the U.S., most of whom are American citizens, were separated from a deported parent. On June 28, the Interfaith Immigration Coalition and the American Friends Service Committee presented a briefing, co-sponsored by Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and Reps. Mike Honda (D-CA) and Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL), at which children shared how being separated from a parent who had been detained or deported affected their lives.

Four children spoke of a sense of incredible loss and lack of understanding of why their hard-working, loving parents and guardians were treated like criminals and taken away from them. Bassidi watched his father being arrested and taken away at 3 a.m., for example, while Fortune took on the responsibility of caring for his younger brother as well as himself. Dozens of other children stood alongside the speakers, offering support.

The profound psychological and emotional impact on these children was clear: Parental detention and deportation leave long-lasting scars in their lives as well as in the lives of their parents.

For me, the gathering was chance to see the other side of such separation. A few months ago I had the opportunity to visit a man detained at the Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin, Ga. He was brought to the U.S. as a toddler, abandoned by his mother and raised by another family member.

For the majority of my one-hour visit, separated from him by a thick pane of glass, I listened through an old, crackling phone as he spoke with great love and affection about his wife and two young daughters (all U.S. citizens). He told me how he worries about his youngest daughter, who has a health condition.

With the small amount of money he earns from cleaning tables in the center, he tries to buy a calling card each week so he can speak with his family. He told me how the ten minutes a week he has to speak with them are never long enough, and about the incredible sadness he feels when his daughters tell him how much they miss him and ask when he is coming home.

“My love for my family is what keeps me strong here,” he said. “I just want to go home so I can tuck my daughters into bed, read them a story, and tell them how much I love them.”

And then, a comment that still gives me chills: “My parents abandoned me when I was young, so I always told myself that when I have children, I will be a good father to them and always be there for them. Now I can’t even do that.”

This man wanted nothing more than to be with his family so he could provide them with love and support, but instead he was stuck in a detention center a thousand miles away from them, wondering if and when he would ever see them again. I had only just met this man, but our hour together seemed much too short. I cannot even imagine the sadness and pain children and spouses must feel when they spend, at most, only one hour a week with loved ones, unable even to embrace them through that thick pane of glass after being separated for so long.

For a nation that prides itself on the importance of family values, our immigration system is greatly lacking. The love, guidance and encouragement a parent or guardian provides play a large role in the developing talents, skills and potential of a child. When children are separated from a parent or guardian, they lose a vital component of their support system, which can affect them for the rest of their lives.

Each day our broken immigration system goes unfixed, lives are shattered and families are torn apart. The children who suffer the effects of detention and deportation are part of the future of this country, and it is imperative for Congress to create a solution. Until they do, the lives of thousands of families — including children on whom our nation’s future success depends — are hanging in the balance.

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