Equity & Diversity

How Does a Parent’s Arrest and Deportation Affect Children?

By Mary Ann Zehr — February 03, 2010 1 min read

Within the first six months after immigrant parents are arrested, their children’s study habits tend to slip and their academic performance starts to suffer, says a study released this week by the Urban Institute (hat tip to ImmigrationProf). But in the long run, children show both positive and negative changes in school, the study says, as some seem to benefit from the routines of school, which contrast with the uncertainty of their home lives.

The 80-page report, “Facing Our Future: Children in the Aftermath of Immigration Enforcement,” relays in detail how children in 85 families responded to their parents’ arrest in six communities. Most children experienced emotional distress. Six months or less after an immigration-enforcement action, more than half of children in the study cried more often and were more afraid that previously. About two thirds of the 190 children in the study experienced changes in eating and sleeping habits.

In the short run, school performance also tended to slip for such children. A 2nd grader in Miami, for example, whose father was arrested in their home and deported, wasn’t doing his homework five months after the arrest, the report says. But in the long run, some children whose parents were arrested were doing okay in school, the researchers found. The report tells about a 4-year-old attending a preschool program who was well adjusted in school one year after her immigrant mother was arrested.

The report calls for changes in immigration laws so that the circumstances and interests of the children of immigrants, particularly those children who are U.S. citizens, are taken into account. The report says that minor children who are U.S. citizens should be able to petition for their parents to attain legal permanent status. Among other recommendations, the report says federal immigration authorities should give family members greater access to arrested immigrants during their processing and detention.

Human Rights Watch released a report late last year saying undocumented immigrants who are detained are often transferred to remote jails in Texas or Louisiana, far from lawyers who can help them and from family members.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Learning the Language blog.