by Cynthia de Castro/AJPress
LOS ANGELES – The Los Angeles Times reported June 8 that as federal authorities expand immigration enforcement in California and throughout the nation, teachers, mental health professionals and immigrant rights advocates are raising concerns about the effect on children who are US citizens.
Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-Petaluma), a California congresswoman, recently held a hearing on the raids’ consequences for children. “The administration must take the necessary steps to ensure that these raids are conducted in a humane fashion and they are protective to kids, not harmful,” said Woolsey.
In the hearing, an elementary school principal from the Bay Area city of San Rafael, testified that local immigration raids in 2007 traumatized children and resulted in high absenteeism and low test scores. Another one who testified, National Council of La Raza President Janet Murguia, said that immigration agents instilled fear among children by conducting enforcement operations near public schools and Head Start programs.
A 2007 report released by the Latino civil rights organization disclosed that about 5 million children in the US have an undocumented parent and two-thirds of those children are US citizens. Many of these children were left to fend for themselves when their parents were arrested and detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents.
ICE officials say they strike a balance between enforcing the law and humanitarian issues that arise during enforcement. Spokeswoman Virginia Kice said the agency goes to extraordinary lengths to address family concerns. But once it is determined that a person does not have a legal right to be in the United States, the agency is going to carry out the judge’s order, she said.
While immigrant rights groups are protesting that arresting parents in front of children and detaining and deporting them is unfair to US-born children, some advocates who favor stricter controls on immigration said illegal immigrant parents — not the government — are to blame.
Barbara Coe of the California Coalition for Immigration Reform said that “The impact on their children is their responsibility, not ours.”
One clinical psychologist, Marlies Amarca, who has testified as an expert witness in Immigration Court, said children whose parents have been arrested by immigration authorities often have nightmares and separation anxiety and frequently fall behind in school. The trauma has an effect on their psyche and on their school performance, she said.