The United States is a country of immigrants. Nearly all of us have relatives who have moved here from another country as some point. Yet somehow, in this diverse melting pot, hostility towards immigrants has grown in recent years. As a result, a large percentage of our population lives every day in fear.
In this anti-immigrant climate, it’s easy to assume that being a citizen makes you “safe.” But this is not necessarily true. Imagine being a child—a U.S. citizen—whose parents are immigrants. As a citizen, you have many protections that they don’t. But imagine the anxiety that comes with knowing your parents could be removed from your country at any moment without you.
Earlier this week, we reported on a series of workplace raids of undocumented immigrants in Mississippi. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) arrest 680 undocumented workers—many of whom were parents of small children. These children—some as young as four months old—were left without parental care.
Effects of child separation
Small children rely on their parents for many things—from basic needs to protection from harm. When their parent—sometimes their only parent—is abruptly taken from them, it can have many serious consequences on the child’s life.
Many of us don’t realize what actually happens after an immigration raid. Following arrest, undocumented workers may be deported without their children. The children who are left behind may suffer long-term consequences from extended—or even permanent—separation from their parent.
Many undocumented families are working class. However, following a raid, a family may lose their main—or sole—source of income. This can send the family into poverty. The family may have trouble affording food or housing. Studies show that growing up in poverty is bad for a child’s development.
The mental damage induced by a parent suddenly disappearing from a child’s life is severe. The child may not even know what happened to their parent. They won’t know when—or if—they’ll ever see their parent again. This can lead to psychological trauma as well as instability in their interpersonal relationships.
The above situation is a reality for many children in the United States. It is a reality that robs them of their childhood and injects fear into their everyday lives. As one of the world’s most influential countries, we have an obligation to set a better example for how to treat children humanely.