Children as Collateral Damage

A new report illustrates the tragic intersection of immigration policing and child welfare. Like the "collateral damage" brought about about by U.S.-war-making abroad, harm to children is an inevitable consequence of the ongoing "war" on  immigrants characterized as undesirable.
Joseph Nevins 11/7/2011

A report released last week shows that damage to the wellbeing of children and families is an increasingly fundamental component of the U.S. immigration enforcement regime. In its investigative study called “Shattered Familes,” the Applied Research Center (ARC), the publisher of, finds that the federal government deported more than 46,000 mothers and fathers of U.S. citizen children in the first six months of 2011.534

These figures constitute a very significant increase in the proportion of parental deportations. In the period 1998-2007, approximately 8 percent of the federal government’s “removals” were of parents of U.S. citizen children. By contrast, the 2011 figures reveal that parental deportations are now more than 22 percent of the total.

Among other shocking key findings, ARC conservatively estimates that more than 5,100 children are currently living in foster care due to the deportation or detention of their parents. While most of these cases occur in the U.S.-Mexico region, they take place across the United States: ARC identified 22 different states where such cases have unfolded in the last two years.

Given the large number of children (an estimated 5.5 million) in the United States who have at least one parent in the country without authorization (i.e. they are “illegal”), the potential for detrimental effects by the ever-growing deportation apparatus is enormous. This is not only true for children who are not U.S. nationals, but also for U.S. citizen children. (According to a 2009 study by the Pew Hispanic Center, almost 4 million of the children in families with an unauthorized immigrant parent were born in the United States and thus citizens).535 Credit: Getty Images

International human rights conventions indicate that a country cannot deport a non-citizen without carefully considering the violation of any rights. Among a state’s obligations—one affirmed in various areas of U.S. law (but not in the domain of immigration)—is to give primary consideration to the “best interests” of children who might be impacted, says a 2009 report by the law firm Dorsey & Whitney, for the Urban Institute. Nonetheless, ARC’s research repeatedly found, states Seth Freed Wessler, author and principal investigator of the ARC report, “that families are being left out of decision-making when it comes to the care and custody of their children.”

According to Human Rights Watch, international human rights conventions assert a fundamental right to live together with close family members, including minor children. The U.S. Supreme Court has upheld “the right to live together as a family,” calling it in 1977 an “enduring American tradition,” while noting that the right to raise one’s child has been deemed a basic civil right, one “far more precious than property rights.”

That the U.S. government effectively ignores domestic and international laws as they apply to children in its “war” against immigrants it deems as undesirable is hardly surprising. In recent days, it has been revealed that a CIA drone killed 16-year-old Tariq Aziz and his 12-year-old cousin, in Pakistan. This comes less than a month after a suspected U.S. drone murdered 16-year-old (and U.S. born) Abdel-Rahman Anwar al-Awlaki (the son of the U.S.-born cleric Anwar al-Awlaki who the United States had assassinated less than two weeks earlier).

Like the hundreds of children, and countless adult non-combatants, killed by U.S drone strikes in places like Afghanistan and Pakistan under the Obama administration, children caught in the crosshairs in the “war” on immigrants are what is called, in Orwell-speak, collateral damage. They are, as seen from the halls of power, the price “we” must accept in the endless pursuit of the bottomless pit called security.536 Man says goodbye to wife and daughter before deportation flight in 2010. Credit: Scott Olson/Gety Images and

For more from the Border Wars blog, visit And now you can follow it on twitter @NACLABorderWars. See also the May/June 2011 NACLA Report, Mexico's Drug Crisis; the Jan/Feb 2009 NACLA Report, Taking on Policy in the Obama Era; and the May/June 2007 NACLA Report, Of Migrants & Minutemen.



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