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June 2013Vol. 14, No. 5Immigration Enforcement and Children in Care

A 2011 study conducted by the Applied Research Center found that in jurisdictions where local authorities aggressively enforce immigration laws, children in foster care are 29 percent more likely to have a parent detained or deported than children in care in other jurisdictions. A recent research brief by the American Immigration Council and First Focus maintains that U.S. immigration policies often overlook the needs of the children and families whom they directly impact. The brief summarizes the myriad challenges that State and Federal immigration enforcement pose to the family unit and child well-being and concludes with possible solutions and policy recommendations.

The exact number of children and families separated because of immigration enforcement is unknown. According to Department of Homeland Security estimates, nearly 205,000 unauthorized immigrant parents of U.S.-citizen children were deported from the United States between July 1, 2010, and September 31, 2012. Many more children, approximately 5.5 million according to the Pew Hispanic Center, live in mixed-status families with at least one parent who is an unauthorized immigrant and at risk for detention or removal. Subsequently, these children, most of whom are U.S. citizens, also face the increased risk of entering foster care.

The research brief presents information in a question-and-answer format, with many child welfare-specific questions, including the following:

  • What are the short- and long-term risks for children who have been impacted by State and Federal immigration enforcement policies?
  • How many children are in the child welfare system due to a parent's detention or deportation?
  • How do children enter the child welfare system?
  • What are the challenges for family reunification when a parent is in immigration detention or removed or facing removal from the United States?
  • What are possible solutions to minimize family separation due to immigration enforcement?

The brief links to a number of studies, statistics, reports, and case studies.

Falling Through the Cracks: The Impact of Immigration Enforcement on Children Caught Up in the Child Welfare System, by the Immigration Policy Center within the American Immigration Council and First Focus, is available in English and Spanish on the Policy Center's website: (130 KB)

Spanish version: (225 KB)