Undocumented Immigrants, Children and CCPA

Check out this piece from Lavanya Sithanandam, pediatrician and travel doctor in Takoma Park and SAALT Board member about undocumented immigrants, citizen children and the Child Citizen Protection Act:

The non-partisan Pew Hispanic Center released a report yesterday entitled ‘A Portrait of Unauthorized Immigrants in the United States’ .  The report reveals that 4 million American children in the United States have at least one undocumented parent, which is up dramatically from 2.7 million children in 2003.   Children of unauthorized immigrants now account for about one in 15 elementary and secondary school students nationwide.  One third of these children live in poverty and close to half (45%) of these children are without health insurance.

As a practicing pediatrician in Takoma Park, MD, these statistics are more than numbers to me.   Some of my patients that I treat in my own office are included in this data.  What these percentages and statistics do not convey is how deeply entrenched these children and their families have become in this country.  Despite this, I have noticed a disturbing trend over the past two years, with a growing number of my patients having to deal with the detention and possible deportation of a parent, friend, or neighbor.  This is a nightmare scenario for anyone to have to cope with, let alone a young child.

In response to this situation, I have been working with SAALT and several other non-profit organizations such as Families For Freedom to shed light on the plight of such children and to help them stay united with their families.   This week is a ‘Week of Action’ in support of HR 182 or the Child Citizen Protection Act, which will give immigration judges discretion in deportation cases involving the separation of families with children who are U.S. citizens.    Currently, judges have their hands tied and are forced to deport many parents unless they meet an ‘extreme hardship’ standard-  a difficult standard for most to meet.  I ask that you call your local congressmen and ask them to sign on to this bill.  Also please try to document any experiences that you may be facing with the detention and/or deportation of a loved one.  In my own practice I am asking my patients to draw pictures of broken hearts (like the one above) to represent the pain and suffering these families endure when one or both parents are deported.   I hope to show these drawings and letters that I collect to my local representatives as part of SAALT’s annual advocacy day next week.

Takoma Park Pediatrics Patient, Age 7

Also, check out Dr. Sithanandam’s excellent Op-Ed published in the Baltimore Sun.

“Failing Families” op-ed in Baltimore Sun

Montgomery County, MD, where the SAALT offices are located, is a vibrant community with immigrants from around the world. This op-ed from Dr. Lavanya Sithanandam, a pediatrician and travel doctor based in Takoma Park, shows how immigration raids have negatively impact this community, particularly its most vulnerable members: children. Read the excellent piece here:

Failing Families

Immigration enforcement policies unfairly hurt many children who are citizens

by Lavanya Sithanandam

When I walked into the exam room, I knew something was wrong. My 8-year old patient, usually an extroverted, charming boy, was angry. He sat with his arms crossed and refused to look at me. His exhausted mother recounted how one week ago, her husband, after arriving home from a 12-hour shift at work, had been arrested in front of his children and taken away in handcuffs. He was now sitting in an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention center in Frederick. The mother asked me to evaluate her son for a one-week history of poor appetite, difficulty with sleeping, and wheezing.

As a pediatrician working in Montgomery County, home to the largest immigrant community in Maryland, I have seen firsthand the devastating effects that aggressive immigration enforcement policies can have on families. Many of these children are citizens, born in the United States to at least one undocumented parent. Yet these children often experience what no U.S. citizen (or any child, for that matter) should. They live in constant fear of abandonment because they have seen and heard of neighbors and family members being picked up and deported within days.

My patient, a “citizen child” himself, was exhibiting symptoms of depression, and like other children who have lost a parent to detention centers, he perceives his father’s arrest as somehow being his fault. His mother, who must now take over her husband’s 15-year role as the family’s breadwinner, is struggling to pay the bills, to make the lengthy drive to see her husband, and to take her son to the doctor. These parents are good people: hardworking and honest immigrants from West Africa who pay their taxes and take good care of their children. They struggle to make a decent life for their family, despite a grueling, 70-hour workweek.

Unfortunately, their story is not unique. There are more than 5 million citizen children in this country – and sadly, the likelihood that one or both of their parents will be deported is increasing. In order to meet arrest quotas, ICE agents are increasingly going after “soft targets”: immigrants such as my patient’s father, with no criminal record and for whom ICE had not issued a deportation order. Some of these people are picked up by chance, at work or at home. Some are victims of “residential raids” where immigration authorities knock on door after door with no evidence that the inhabitants are undocumented until they can get someone to admit that he or she is here illegally.

Sometimes, racial profiling is an issue – as in the case, recently revealed, of a January 2007 raid on a 7-Eleven in Baltimore. Officers detained 24 Latino men, few of them with criminal records, in an apparent effort to meet a quota for arrests.

The future for families like my 8-year-old patient’s looks grim. My patient’s suffering will probably have no influence on his father’s deportation proceedings, given the high legal standards of “extreme hardship” that must be met in order for his father to stay with his family. The boy will most likely be forced to start a new life in a country he has never even visited.

Immigration policy is complicated and emotionally charged, but punishing citizen children should be at the bottom of ICE’s priorities. It is time to once again consider a fair and comprehensive approach to immigration reform. One promising proposal is the “Child Citizenship Protection Act” (introduced this year by Rep. Jose Serrano of New York), which would authorize an immigration judge to prevent deportation of an immigrant when it is in the best interest of his or her citizen children.

It is essential to enact laws that will promote family reunification, fairness and dignity over current enforcement tactics that tear families apart.

Dr. Lavanya Sithanandam, a pediatrician in Takoma Park, immigrated to this country from India at the age of 4. She is a member of South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT), a social justice and advocacy group. Her e-mail is drsithanandam@gmail.com.