New Report Reveals Devastating Effects of Deportation on U.S. Citizen Children


Everyone’s heard stories about how deportation rips apart families—or they will if Arizona’s new law is enforced. Most people think of undocumented workers when they think about deportation, but legal immigrants are often deported too. Most of these immigrants—legal and undocumented—have families, and many of those families include U.S. citizen children. When their parents are deported, it is devastating for the children. A new report by the law schools at UC Berkeley and UC Davis, In the Child’s Best Interest, looks at the deportation of legal permanent residents (LPRs or green card holders) and the impact on their kids.

Using new data from the Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Census, the report estimates more than 88,000 U.S. citizen children lost their lawful immigrant parents to deportation between 1997 and 2007. Almost half of these children were under the age of 5 when their parent was taken away. The report is summarized in an Immigration Policy Center fact sheet.

The deportation of a parent has a significant negative impact on their U.S. citizen children. Children who have lost a parent suffer psychological harm, undergo behavioral changes, and experience serious declines in health and educational performance. Children reported increased depression, sleeplessness, and anxiety. They also reported plummeting grades and desire to drop out of school.

Even more troubling, many of these parents are not the violent criminal offenders that the government makes them out to be. The report finds that more than 68 percent of deported legal immigrants have been deported for relatively minor nonviolent offenses.

Most of the problems stem from the 1996 Illegal Immigrant Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA), which broadened the category of crimes considered “aggravated felonies.” Although this category initially included only the most serious offenses, it now includes non-violent theft and drug offenses, forgery, and other minor offenses, many of which may not even be felonies under criminal law. Lawful permanent residents convicted of an aggravated felony are subject to mandatory deportation.

So what can be done to protect U.S. citizen children affected by our broken immigration system? The report suggests that Congress:

  • Restore judicial discretion in cases involving the deportation of lawful permanent residents who have U.S. citizen children
  • Establish clear judicial guidelines in family deportation case
  • Revert to the pre-1996 definition of “aggravated felony”
  • Collect data on U.S. citizen children of deported LPR parent to gain fuller understanding of impact of deportation laws

While these improvements would certainly help, it’s also important for Congress to consider a larger overhaul of our immigration system—a system that focuses on protecting U.S. citizen children—especially as states like Arizona take enforcement laws into its own hands.

Photo by Tommy Fjordbøge.

*Jonathan Baum and Rosha Jones are J.D. Candidates at the University of California, Berkeley, School of Law (2011).



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  • The children of this country are the future of this country. When parents do this to children in divorce people are horrified because we know it causes terrible trauma to a child’s life and that trauma will affect them as adults – which can go on to create problems for an untold number of people in the future. We instinctively know that harm caused to children is harm caused to society. Now there are mounting studies as to the full effect of parental alienation and it is recognized by many researchers as child abuse. But when the government does the same thing – effectively alienating a child(ren) from a parent(s) suddenly it is okay? No – it is still child abuse and it still has the potential to negatively impact the lives of countless citizens many years in the future.

  • Candida Cortes

    I live this horror everyday. My oldest childs father was deported for minor violation. He has now been out of the country for 8 years and in this time my son has not seen his father. Now, my son is involved in gangs and has a criminal record extremely long and he is only 17. After going through this once, I am now experiencing it for a second time. My fiance and father of my 2 year old daughter got minor traffic tickets and immigration is looking for him. My family has decided to move to Mexico because life is impossible her for us with this problem hanging over our heads. Is it fair that my US citizin children must live in another country, leave my family, and their friends in order to keep our immediate family together?

  • Its hard all over but still yet the Arizona officials are signalling out the Mexican sector and thats wrong. Like I said in a previous post come to my town why zone in on one sector when this town Im in its FLOODED with Illegal ASIANS! Why not target them? hmmmm. No Government is sqeaky clean its corrupt. Whether it being corrupt officals or drug runners or even the people that bring the illegals over in massive van and truck loads they are being fooled by the *American dream* There is still the question if your so ticked off by your government then PICKETTE YOURS! and see how far you get.And I know a family that is torn apart by this very thing the wife was kept in mexico when she went to do her paper work so she can make a life with her husband here and when her stats were run they would not let her leave she was handcuffed and finger printed and all that now if she attempts to come back here there is a greater chance that she will be incarcerated. So her husband established a residence there where she can stay and raise the baby and he visits her and the baby often and thats the only way he can see his wife and son for now. But all are hopefull to have her and the baby back here soon as legal citizens but untill that day this is the way it has to be. ok IM DONE !

  • Dan

    I love kids and sympathize with them. But who put them in that position? The parents. Not the US government or our immigration laws. Only the parents that came here illegally and popped out a kid to try to “anchor” themselves here.

    If a parent commits a crime and goes to jail its hard on the children. But do you ever hear anyone say it’s unfair that these poor kids don’t have their parents now because they committed a crime and went to jail. Of course not. There is absolutely no difference here at all. Illegal immigrants BROKE THE LAW coming here and if their children suffer because of their lack of judgment and complete disregard and disrespect for US law than that’s just too bad.

    This is nothing more than another distraction in an attempt to paint these law breakers as victims. US sovereignty, US citizens and US law are the victims here. Not the law breaking ILLEGAL immigrants.

    • Kris Cole

      Dan, you are dead wrong. The parents are not always at fault, as you’ve suggested. My husband just received a notice for deportation because of something we did that we thought was perfectly legal. I work for IBM UK, and am an American citizen and he has done nothing but leave the country without first notifying immigration and applying for a permit to leave. We did not even know we needed to file this. Next month, my husband may be deported for 10 years, because immigration has accused him of abandoning his Green Card, even though the card was valid for 10 years, and we were never told we had to apply to leave the country. Worse, I feel like it’s my fault, because he only left to go to England with me, for my job. Truth be also known, we had a property abroad and we were trying to save it from going back to the bank. When we finally sold house, and I finally got sick of waiting for IBM to open up country to country transfers, I came back, only to face accusations we had left to persue a life in another country. What a mess. Noone thinks about my kids not seeing their dad for 10 years… my god… they are 4 and 6 now… In 10 years they will by 14 and 16… and he will be sorely missed in our lives.

      Things are not always as they seem… you may think all of us are baby popping Mexicans… but I am not. I was born in this country, and I met my husband in England, as I worked there, at the time. We are in this boat because we did something completely NORMAL (travel back to save our property from going to the bank) and not because we did something WRONG towards this country or its laws. Truth is, the system is screwed up. Really screwed up.


  • I agree with Beth, why are the Hispanics only being targeted? What about the African people? Just because the blend in with the other blacks? How about the Chinese, Koreans, Arabics, Indian, and Canadian people! Why are we the only target! All we want is to work and provide a good life for our family.

  • Sondra

    We need Immigration Reform NOW!
    We need to fix our current immigration system that continues to “DIVIDE” many Blended American Family’s where one or both parents of U.S. born children are being “JAILED” Indefinitely or “REMOVED” from their homes “PERMANENTLY”. I do not believe that this great nation had intended for these laws to leave children without parents or husbands without wives so they are left to raise their families alone. The current system is out of touch with the needs of our country which has always been described as the “MELTING POT”; a nation which was founded upon Immigrants.
    PLEASE, I petition you to find the courage to move forward with Immigration Reform “NOW” with specific legislation that would include a provision to “REUNITE” the American Families much like my own that has been DESTROYED by the current IMMIGRATION POLICIES &FELONY CRIMINAL consequences. These families are just trying to reunite with their loved ones, their children and the lives they left behind here in the U.S. Ask yourself what you would do if you returned home and your family had been taken, placed in a detention center and set for “REMOVAL” from the U.S.? Then they were scheduled to be returned to a third world country “FOREVER” with “NO” possibility to return legally for many years or “NEVER” due to the current immigration laws? Many American Families have been “RIPPED” apart and they are not really criminals at all. They are parents, husbands, wives and siblings and sometimes infants who will “ALL” be punished for a “LIFETIME” right after serving a lengthy Jail sentence in a United States Federal Prison for “LOVING” their Families too much. The U.S. immigration process is a windy road that demands an abundance of money, painful separation and many years to complete. Often the individuals are “DENIED” entry at the end of it all, due to “MINOR” infractions that have severe immigration consequences. WHY? We need to preserve the Unity of Blended American Families and their children!
    My husband is NOT A CRIMINAL and yet he was “REMOVED” almost (3) yrs. ago after living (14) years here in the United States. We were a happy American Family raising our kids, working hard, paying taxes and making our house a “HOME”; and now he has a “LIFETIME BAR”. Me and our (8) CHILDREN are all American born “CITIZENS” who will continue to suffer the irrevocable damage bestowed on us by our own government following the removal of my husband /their father. This issue must be addressed during the reform process so as to protect our “AMERICAN CHILDREN” from being denied a parent due to Policy & Fea

    “A Family Divided”

  • I live with this fear everyday. My husband came here legally, but over stayed his visa. Why did he over stay? He met me and fell in love:-) We got married and now have 1 year old twins. However, due to the type of visa he came here on, it doesn’t matter that he married a US citizen. He is a good person, husband and father. He deserves to have the right to walk outside without fear, to get a job, and to get a stinking drivers license!! I do not want my twins to lose their father whom they adore. I pray everyday that Washington reforms immigration in a way that it will help me pursue papers for my husband.

  • Joslyn

    It’s easy to judge someone when you never experience the situation. Its easy to say let them go to jail since its not you going to jail. Since it wasn’t you seeing your family in need and coming to a new nation just to help your family.DO YOU THINK IS EASY LEAVING BEHIND YOUR MOTHER AND NOT SEEING HER JUST BECAUSE YOU WANT TO HELP HER ECONOMICALLY.This is not my story but a relative of mine. Sad sad sad America never broke laws it broke many I get so mad when people talk so foolishly.

  • Karen

    Sondra can u give me ur email or contact me of some way we are goin through the same thing with our family and I have some questions on what to do about this my name in Karen Del Castillo

  • Christine

    Dan, good for you. I agree in totality with you. The Hispanics are not the only ones this law effects, no where in the law does it mention Lationos, Chicanos OR Hispanics. this is something that the lationos of the world have come up with and you are buing into it. It just some happens that AZ is one of if not the main coordor for mexicans and other central americans to enter through. It is not about you it is about the totality of the situation.

    Doro Z, if you knew he was illgal when you got married then you took that chance and you and your husband put your children in this situation, don’t blame the law as it exist and if your husband didn’t tell you he was illegally in this country then that is on him and gain he did this to you and the children, don’t blame the laws. You have opitions, but if he gets caught in between those opitions he will most face a judge to determine his deportibility.

  • Jean

    Clearly Christine you have never made a mistake…I sure hope you never do.
    I am the wife of a man I met in 1991 and married in 1992. This is nearly 20 years ago. I met a wonderful man born in Jamaica but a legal resident of the US that had made mistakes in 1987. He had become addicted to cocaine. In a desperate state he stole 20$ on 3 different occassions within in a 48 hr period from different gas stations. Though the clerk offered him the entire tray of $$$ on all three occasions he said no thanks he just needed the 20(for his crack fix). He never put anyone in harms way except maybe himself. He did use a toy gun. Yes Stupid and unfortunate. But does this crime deserve the life punishment. He went to jail for this crime on a 2 year sentence. He was released after 8 months on good behavior. He went through probation and drug rehab and was reviewed and cleared. He was completely rehabilitated when I met him in the fall of 1991. I never knew the man so desperate. I only have known the wonderful man that I have been married to for nearly 20 years. He proposed to me valentines 92 and we married in October 1992. However in the summer of 92 Immigration ordered him to be deported. His crime classified him as a felon. We immediately filed an appeal. We niavely believed we would stand before a judge and have the chance to show his rehabilitation. Not how it works. You are right…I chose to marry him anyway. Call me what ever you want. The fact is I was very naive. Let me make it clear…Despite these terrible circumstances having two children 13 and 15 having to lose their very involved christian father. He had been to every school event, most field trips, church camps, coached them in soccer and much much more. My husband reformed 20 years ago…filed an appeal and we never heard again a thing until May 2009 on a Sunday morning while getting ready for church. I.C.E. came into our home and removed my husband and my kidz father like he was a criminal. Shame on me for not knowing the details of immigration law. Shame on our country for the lack of education. My father served our United States Navy for 29 years. I was born in Japan on American soil and I am a US citizen. Both of our children are US citizens. To our knowledge my husband lived here legally. We did not know that his appeal had been denied in March of 1997. We forwarded all of our address changes to our attorneys. We were never notified that his appeal had been denied. We had requested our attorneys if we could move to a different state. They said don’t worry live your live they were to let us know if anything changed. In hind sight we should have checked on it. I have to take all the credit for telling my husband I believed they must have cleared him. He had letters from his attorney to work. He lived as a legal always. Had Drivers License, Social Security # that he used to work. The company he worked for he had been with them for years. He paid taxes, bought land, homes, cars, boats and more. All legally and ethically. He cared for myself and my kids with all his heart and love. Believe us or not, We never knew all of the ramifications. Our first attorney did nothing accept take our money…He was deported to a Country that he knes nobody. He had not been in that country for years. His parents both dead. I flew to meet him in Kingston the day we figured they were going to drop him off. Exactly what they did. They took him to Jamaican Jail to confirm he had no criminal history in Jamaica. Which he left the country at so no…he had no history. They then release you. He had $7.00 to his name. Luckily we connected. I am now supporting two households in two different countries. I have 2 teenage children that lost there father. All they know of him is the good that they have provided him. Unless you live something like this you have no idea.

    I get it…The American way, it is not your family so it truly does not matter to you. who is going to step out on behalf of someone they don’t personnaly no. My experience is no one is. Congressmen and Senators…They will tell you they are sorry but you are in good hands. Certainly not theirs (but yes we are in gods hands and we will figure this out). But to this point not with the help of any government official. Again, It is not their family member. They have to save there favors for their own misshaps. Not like a politician to screw something up. But extra marital affairs, gay affairs, taking sexual favors under the white house desk. That is forgivable. Had my husband been born in the US. He would be forgiven and living his life better than most of you reading. He has been a volunteer in many facets over the years and he has taking wonderful care of his family. He came to htis country as a child. We cannot tell you why his mom only made him a resident. My guess is money. It is an wxpensive process. She worked hard but was a single mother doing her best. She was a nurse working lots of shifts. This is how it all started. A teenager with too much time on his hands alone. Now be aware… I do my best with both of my kids. However I have to support two households. We cant relocate to Jamaica. My husband cannot find work. Unemployment is 50 to 70% It would be irresponsible to relocate my kids to a country they don’t know when he cant find a job. For me to leavoe our only income would jeopardise our ability to feen and house ourselves and most importantly our children. So instead my children are now like their dad. Alone every day after school while I bust my tail to earn a living to support my family. I love my husband and will never leave him behind. But I pray everyday my kids don’t find themselves making bad choices. Do you know anyone that ever smoked a joint or sniffed cocaine….Maybe you were lucky and did not get addicted.

    Again…I hope you never make a mistake. Oh yeah you were probably born here so you have a free pass. Do as you like.

    The system needs acception. There is always grey area. We are tearing families apart. I am sorry if you can just turn your cheek and say yeah it must be there fault. You my dear are wrong. I am alot of things, but not stupid maybe just a bit too naive and uneducated. Boy do I get to pay today. Did I miss Immigration law in school. I don’t recall the US education system having that as part of the curriculum. Oh yeah its not!

  • Jean

    oops first line at one point read…

    Clearly Christine you have never made a mistake…I sure hope you never don’t.

    Not do.
    This is not an easy environment to not have error. I am not a cold hateful individual. That was a typo.

  • Jay

    I’m a natural born USA citizen, I met my now wife over seven years ago at my church. From the first time I saw her I felt in love with her, now we are proud parents of beautiful twin girls. I visited an immigration attorney a few days ago and the news they gave me was very unpleasant, I was told that my wife would have to leave the country for a minimum of five years for her situation to even be consider for a possible legalization. My little girls are now almost four years old and I can not imagine myself being alway from my wife and kids. They are still here with me and just thinking about it makes me extremely sad. The only crime that my wife ever committed in her entire life is to have

  • Jay

    Come in to this country illegally, I know of people who committed crimes such child rapist and have gotten a second chance in life. My wife has never cause any harm to anyone neither have my children or myself to paid such a huge consequence. There have to be a better way to determine true illegal criminals who are truly causing harm to others. I hope that my family has a chance of staying together, I will continue to pray to my dear Lord til the day comes. God bless any families that are going thru this situations .

  • Nand Lal

    1996 immigation law must change father lost their child and child lost father

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  • Maria

    I am 41 years old, I was born in the U.S and have lived here all my life. I can also ssay I have served my country for over 20 years (Army). I married an Illegal immigrant and we had 3 children. 4 years ago , on his way to work, he was stopped by a Texas state trooper, (driving on the left lane for too long). He was deported 3 days later. My children have seen thier father thru out the years, but it is hard for them to say good bye at the end of each visit, which is maybe once a year. His deportation affected all of us,we went from a two income family to a one income. But it has affected my children the most. The 10 year old has started acting up, but only at home. He has gone as far as hitting everyone, threatening to kill himself and even blaming me for not keeping his dad with us. The 9 year old is very quiet and we think he has ADHD, but all he does is talk about when he sees his dad next. My 5 year old really doesnt know much of her father, he was deported before her 1st birthday and she has seen him a handfull of times. I have asked for help for them, but no one seems to want to help. I cannot go live in Mexico because I’ve never lived there and neither have my children, if I were to do this my children would be basically “punished” because life in Mexico is hard. We dont ask for simpathy, we just want our families together. My husand has another 6 years before he can even appy to get permission to return to the U.S. by then it will be to late for my children to have a normal childhood. I will keep doing what I need to take care of my children. But people need to understand that immigration is not all bad. I understand law have been broken. Fine, tell us what we can do to fix it, but dont separate families. Deportation might get rid of all the illegal immigrants (Mexicans mostly because I really dont see anyone else effected by this), but in the long run it causes more health issues, crime, education goes down and so much more impact. These children dont want to be problem children but thats all they know. Their parent was taken to another country and the only crime committed was working hard to support and make life better for their families.

    • reunitemoreno

      maria I know another family in same situation please contact me,, I am trying to find info for him.

  • Luz Vasquez

    Hello All,

    My name is Lucy and I am inventing a project in the form of a documentary to bring awareness of the families who have been separated by immigration laws and who now are having familial issues arise. If there is anyone here who would like to share their story and who would like to be a participant of a community that will support the advancement of this project please contact me as soon as possible (within the next couple of weeks)
    at or at my blog
    Thanks to everybody who participates and for everyone who took the time to read this.
    I hope to hear form you soon.

  • Jeanette

    We have no children we only had each other. He was deported before and it nearly killed me. For the last 3months I have written everyone begging for help this whole time. The government /ICE they do not care it doesn’t affect them directly they get to go home to their families.I suffer from depression ,major anxiety which affects my thinking and my health. I am now placed in a situation to where I am trying to support us both. He lives in a country that violence and gangs rule so he can not work he has to stay in his house or on his street . When he has to go get food, pick up money they go in a group. I shake almost all the time, my body hurts all over even pain in my face. I can not work I am disabled. The only time I even feel a little alive is when we talk. The rest of the time I feel numb -sleep a lot. I take nitro almost everyday I also am on medicine for depression but it doesn’t seem to be working. I wake up thinking about him and go to sleep thinking of him. I relied on him for so much, from taking care of me to the bills. I have borrowed all I can for the lawyer, I really thought he could stop the deportation but ICE refused to stop it.I don’t know why he did re enter but was not a terrorist but they felt he was high priority. So now what do I do? I don’t have the desire to live anymore. My problems are so huge now I see no way out. What really makes it all so bad is the government knew I was in bad shape and still deported him. I am so tired and have no hope .