Lost in the system: children of undocumented immigrants in foster system

According to ABC news, as of summer 2011, 5,100 children of detained immigrants are in the foster care in 22 states.

The parents of these children are stuck between a rock and a hard place, often being forced to choose between fighting deportation, with the chance of terminating parental rights, or take deportation and fight to get their child(ren) back wherever they originated from.

All the while, their child(ren) are left in a foster care system.

This is the problem Amelia Reyes Jiminez is facing. In 2008, she was separated from her four children- three girls and a boy- when police came to her apartment in Phoenix to arrest her for child endangerment.  She had left her disabled 13-year-old son alone in the apartment.

According to the article, the police asked her if she was illegal and whether she had papers.  When she said she did not, she was handcuffed.

Jiminez spent two years in a detention center fighting deportation, before she was deported back to Mexico.  During those two years, she was trying to fight two systems: the child welfare system and Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Twice her attorneys tried to convince an immigration judge that she qualified for a visa “on account of the harm that would be done to her three U.S. citizen children if she were to be deported.” She lost both times.

In late 2011, Jiminez’s parental rights were terminated because she could not meet the child welfare system’s usual requirements- since she was held in a detention center and could not attend court hearings.

Currently, Jiminez is living in Guadalajara and is working nights making cell phones on a factory assembly line.

When she is not working, she sits by the phone waiting to hear from her lawyer.

Situations like these do not sit well with me.  I cannot imagine being separated from my family, let alone losing parental rights (if I was a parent)- all because of technicalities.

Yes, she is an undocumented immigrant, and I understand that Americans frown on this. But really, you are separating a family and causing unperceived harm to the children’s psyches. You are tearing apart a family and making these children just another number in the system. Is it really worth it?

According to the article, in 2010, the ICE released a memo saying that immigration officers are encouraged to consider family relationships when deciding to prosecute a deportation case.

The “ICE Spokesman Brian Hale said that, ‘…ICE will typically not detain individuals who are the primary caretakers of children…”

But how does that help those who were detained prior to 2010? What about Jiminez’s family? This does not help them. She is still fighting for her right to be a parent to her OWN children. Her children are still in the system, parentless.

These memos the ICE has come up with are good, but they are futile if they are not willing to enforce them. Ensuring that families are not separated just because America wants to crackdown on immigration is key. Making sure these children do not end up part of the system is key.

At the blink of an eye, the lives of undocumented immigrant families can be turned upside.  How would you like it if that could happen to you? Would your policy on immigration change then?


About Haley Behre

I graduated from Syracuse University in December 2011 with majors in newspaper journalism and women and gender studies. Using these majors, I aspire to become a journalist who writes about human rights issues. I have held internships at the Syracuse New Times, Dash Media PR Firm, Syracuse Post-Standard and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. I also had an internship at the Not For Sale Campaign Syracuse chapter, which is a non-profit organization dedicated to eradicating human trafficking. I was born in Seoul, Korea on September 30, 1990 and moved to the United States before I was one year old. When I was 8, my family and I moved to Norwich, England for three years. While I was here I was immersed into a new culture and got to experience many things other children my age do not get to. Over the three years, I visited Ireland, France and the Netherlands several times, and Belgium, Wales and Sweden once. In the winter of 2010, I got an amazing opportunity to visit Kenya for a month. This was by far the single most eye-opening experience of my life thus far. The natural beauty of the landscape and its people do not compare to anything I have seen. I currently intern for the Reporters Committee for the Freedom of the Press in the hopes of getting a full-time job at a newspaper or non-profit after.
This entry was posted in Latin America & South America, United States and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Lost in the system: children of undocumented immigrants in foster system

  1. Pingback: Deported Mother, Four Children in Foster Care, ICE, ARC — but why Mum on the Dad? (Amelia Reyes Jiminez case) « Let'sGetHonestBlog

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