The United States government deported the lawful immigrant parents of
nearly 88,000 citizen children between 1997 and 2007, most for
relatively minor crimes, according to a new report released today by the
University of California, Davis, and University of California, Berkeley,
law schools. The deportations often resulted in psychological harm,
behavioral changes and problems in school for the children left behind.
The report, "In the Child's Best Interest?" is based on analysis of data
provided by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, interviews with
affected families and comparisons of U.S. and international human rights
standards. The study was a joint project of the Immigration Law Clinic
at the UC Davis School of Law, and the International Human Rights Law
Clinic and the Chief Justice Earl Warren Institute on Race, Ethnicity
and Diversity at the UC Berkeley School of Law. It is available on the
Drastic revisions to U.S. immigration laws in 1996 led to large numbers
of deported lawful permanent residents (green card holders), who now
make up nearly 10 percent of immigrants deported from the U.S.,
according to the report. More than 68 percent of the deported green card
holders were deported for minor crimes, including driving under the
influence, simple assault and nonviolent drug offenses, it found.
"It is often the children in these families who suffer the most," said
Raha Jorjani, a clinical professor of law at UC Davis and supervising
attorney for the UC Davis Immigration Law Clinic. "This nation should
take into consideration the impact on families of uprooting individuals
with such strong ties to the U.S."
Current immigration laws severely restrict the ability of judges to
consider the impact of deportation on children, the report notes. The
authors recommend restoring judicial discretion in all cases involving
the deportation of lawful permanent residents with U.S. citizen
"As Congress considers immigration reform, it's time to focus on how the
current system tears apart families and threatens the health and
education of tens of thousands of children," said Aarti Kohli, director
of immigration policy at Berkeley Law's Warren Institute. "This report
makes a strong case for restoring judicial discretion so immigration
judges can weigh the best interests of children when deciding whether to
deport a parent."
The report examined deportation records between April 1997 and August
2007. The nearly 88,000 legal residents who were deported during this
decade had lived in the U.S. an average of 10 years, and more than half
had at least one child living at home, the study found. About half of
the children were under age 5 when their parent was deported.
In 1996, Congress also significantly broadened the category of crimes
considered an "aggravated felony," the report notes. Although this
category initially included only the most serious offenses, it now
includes nonviolent theft and drug offenses, forgery and other minor
offenses, many of which may not be felonies under criminal law. Lawful
permanent residents convicted of an aggravated felony are now subject to
mandatory deportation and other severe immigration consequences.
"Parents who are deported on the basis of criminal convictions are being
punished twice for the same mistakes," Jorjani said. "Even after
successfully completing their criminal sentences, they are subject to
penalties within the immigration system - and risk losing their
Families interviewed for the study reported negative health impacts,
such as increased depression, sleeplessness and anxiety. Children also
reported plummeting grades, increased behavioral problems and the urge
to drop out of school to help support the family.
The study compares U.S. immigration policy to international standards
that more adequately address potential family separations in deportation
"The rights to health and education are firmly entrenched in
international human rights law, and nearly every major human rights
treaty recognizes the need for special protection of children," said
Laurel Fletcher, director of the International Human Rights Law Clinic
at the UC Berkeley School of Law. "The U.S. should consider revising its
policy to mirror European human rights standards, which permit judges to
balance a nation's security interest with the best interests of the
child when considering deporting a parent."
"In the Child's Best Interest?" makes a number of recommendations to
U.S. policymakers, including:
* restoring judicial discretion in cases involving the deportation of
lawful permanent residents who have U.S. citizen children;
* establishing clear judicial guidelines in these family deportation
* reverting to the pre-1996 definition of "aggravated felony";
collecting data on U.S. citizen children of deported lawful immigrant
parents to gain fuller understanding of impact of deportation laws.
Co-authors of the study include J.D. candidates and research analysts at
UC Davis School of Law and UC Berkeley School of Law.
* In the Child's Best
* Pamela Wu, UC Davis School of Law, (916) 717-7956,
* Susan Gluss, UC Berkeley School of Law, (510) 642-6936,
* Claudia Morain, UC Davis News Service, (530) 752-9841,
Director of RP/Community Educator
Immigrant Advocacy Program of the Legal Aid Justice Center
6400 Arlington Blvd., Suite 600
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