Miguel is a US citizen child who grew up in Minnesota like any other little American boy. But his parents are undocumented workers from El Salvador who worked at the Swift plant in Worthington, MN. On December 12, 2006, the plant was raided by ICE, and more than 200 workers were detained, including Miguel’s mother. Miguel returned home from second grade that day to discover that his mother and father were not there and that his two-year-old brother was left alone. For the next week, Miguel stayed home caring for his brother-with no information about what had happened to his parents. A week after the raid, Miguel’s grandmother arrived to care for her grandchildren. When Miguel returned to school, his teacher reported that this previously “happy little boy” had become “absolutely catatonic.” His performance slipped and his grades plummeted.

This story is echoed by many others in a new report released this week by the Dorsey & Whitney law firm, in conjunction with The Urban Institute, which graphically details the devastating impact of immigration enforcement on US citizen children and their families. The report, “Severing a Lifeline: The Neglect of Citizen Children in America’s Immigration Enforcement Policy,” puts into serious question immigration restrictionists that have been calling for increased enforcement and increased raids. The raids have dire consequences for the well-being of American children who are either separated from their parents or are effectively deported to their parents’ home country and face poverty and few opportunities. In either case, the psychological damage is devastating to the children left behind.

ICE raids have left children without parents and feeling abandoned, separated nursing babies from their mothers, separated pregnant wives from their husbands and compelled local communities and organizations to scramble to address child welfare crises in their wake. In a country that emphasizes the importance of family unity in the socialization and upbringing of its children, an immigration system that promotes family separation is a broken system.

According to the Urban Institute, one citizen child is affected for every two adults arrested in ICE enforcement actions. These children have been abandoned at school after parents leave work in the morning and are never able to come back. Other times, ICE shows up at their homes and armed agents force their way inside, aggressively question occupants and lead adults out in handcuffs – all of which children witness. Parents may be detained in a prison far from their home; some are denied access to the phone. While ICE has guidelines calling for agents to determine if there are children at home and allowing them to provide an alternative to detention in some cases, there is no uniform policy.  Alarmingly, US immigration law does not take the “best interests of the child” into account.

Families, teachers, and psychologists report that children are experiencing sleep disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, depression, eating disorders – as a result of being suddenly torn from their parents. Neighbors and family members are left struggling to feed and care for children who have been left behind.

Leaders from both sides of the aisle agree that it’s time to reform our immigration laws so that they take the best interests of children into account. Former President George Bush reminded Americans that “family values do not stop at the Rio Grande River…”  House Speaker Nancy Pelosi recently asked, “How then could America say it’s OK to send parents of children away? What value system is that? I think it’s un-American.” Immigrant families and workers are under siege and we need to reform the system so that all needed workers can work here legally and U.S. families can stay strong, healthy, and united.