By Elizabeth Stannard Gromisch
The United States has been cracking down on illegal immigration by performing immigration raids on suspected workplaces. While immigration raids affect all persons who are in the country illegally, its impact on women and children is the most noticeable. According to a Women’s Commission for Refugee Women and Children press release, immigrants that are from “more than 39 states have been separated from their families since the Department of Homeland Security stepped up immigration raids on workplaces across the country.” It’s not surprising that this would affect female immigrants the most when one looks at the roles women play in raising a family. Although men have also been subject to these immigration raids, they do not always bring their children with them to the United States. It is most likely that the woman is the one bringing the children across the border - especially if she is escaping from an abusive situation - and is therefore the main caregiver. Mothers captured by the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) are often separated from their children, and children that are born in the United States (and are therefore citizens) are left to care for themselves. For example, many of these workplaces that have been raided contain day care centers. If there are children in the day care center who were born in the United States, they are not taken by the INS. What’s worse is that if the mother is deported, her United States-born children must remain in the country, and then they become wards of the state unless they have legal relatives in the country. It is often too dangerous for an illegal resident relative to take the children for fear of being discovered by the INS.
The mothers and children that are sent to detainment facilities are not guaranteed legal and social services. Children are often separated from their mothers, and are sometimes held in juvenile detention halls with delinquents who have committed dangerous crimes. In addition, many detention centers lack staff with the proper language skills, which further hinders the detainees’ access to services. Nevertheless, advocates have been able to help women who are detained, as well as their children. If a woman is breastfeeding or has very young children at home, advocates can petition the ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) for the release of the mother. For children separated from their mothers that are not in detainment, advocates can set up legal proxies to ensure that the children will receive proper care. In addition, for children who are citizens of the United States, advocates can lobby with state officials to prevent separation of children from mothers, since the children will be a burden on state resources, and it is illegal to deport them. Probably the most important task in helping detainees is to get them legal council. Many times, detainees sign documents before speaking to an immigration lawyer, which can result in waiving their rights and agreeing to leave the country voluntarily. Without legal guidance, detainees will not be told if they are eligible for refugee status. Besides a lawyer, an advocate for domestic violence/sexual assault/child welfare could help to determine if detainees qualify for refugee status. If a detainee is a victim of a crime, and therefore is eligible for a U visa or a VAWA self-petition, the ICE cannot deport her because it would violate their national policy.
Currently, Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) has introduced an amendment into the Senate to the “Secure Borders, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Reform Act of 2007” (S.1348), which would help prevent families from being separated and mistreated. This would include keeping US citizen children with their non-US citizen families. However, there are no Republican co-sponsors to the amendment, making it a partisan amendment for the time being. Nevertheless, one can help these women and children by contacting her senators, supporting organizations that help detainees, and making her voice heard.
Elizabeth Stannard Gromisch is a member of the class of 2009 at Trinity College in Hartford, CT, where she majors in neuroscience and minors in classical tradition. She is a sister of Zeta Omega Eta, the only feminist sorority in existence, and is a member of the executive board. She is the co-editor of Women Unite! and the Feminist Scholarship Review at the Women and Gender Resource Action Center at Trinity, and writes a feminist blog on CampusProgress.org under the name sekai.no.kakumei.