Monday, July 20, 2020

Caring Causes: The Effect of Workplace Raids on Communities

 A new report from the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP), “The Day that ICE Came: How Worksite Raids Are Once Again Harming Children and Families,” documents how families and communities remain shattered months, and even years, after workplace immigration raids--and children bear the brunt of the trauma.

I had a chance to interview Wendy Cervantes, Director, Immigration and Immigrant Families with CLASP.

Why is it important for people to be aware of the impact of workplace raids on communities?

Because immigrants and their families are valued members of our communities. The families we spoke with for this report were just trying to work hard and build a life for their children, when suddenly they were aggressively arrested at their workplaces by armed police and thrown in jail. Thousands of dollars in legal costs later, they might be deported and permanently separated from their loved ones. That is a very steep price to pay for wanting and working toward a better life for your children. 

We should be aware also because children, most of whom are U.S. citizens, bear the brunt of the consequences in this situation. In our interviews in three different communities that experienced immigration raids, parents told us that the first thing on their minds when they saw that immigration agents had arrived to their workplaces was: who will take care of my children? They knew how traumatizing their arrest and potential deportation would be to their little ones. And they were right. We documented massive stress and anxiety, developmental regressions, depression and suicidal thoughts, increased bullying, loss of a sense of security, economic and housing struggles, and many other adverse impacts on children that have long-term psychological and developmental effects.

In the United States today, one out of every four children has an immigrant parent. Threatening their parents with deportation only adds to children’s toxic stress and the hurdles they have to overcome to become healthy adults.  

Why should even advocates for stricter immigration policies be concerned?

I can’t imagine what stricter immigration policies would look like. Immigration enforcement is nothing new, and neither are the consequences of family separation. But there has been recognition across the board that measures should be taken to minimize the harm to children whenever possible--and we have seen previous administrations implement policies to make sure that children are not put in harm’s way and that parents can make decisions about what happens to them. But this administration is ripping children away from their parents--both at the border and within our communities--while also ignoring its own protocols to protect children’s safety. The harm to children appears intentional. 

The bottom line is that this approach to “enforcement” is not working and we need a new approach. We need a better system that matches our values and today’s realities. Undocumented immigrants are part of the fabric of our communities informally, if not formally. We need Congress to create a path to citizenship so that everyone who is contributing to this country can be formally recognized and included, all workers are protected, and all children are valued.

How can people advocate for immigrant communities to be treated fairly?

There are many amazing community-based organizations and faith leaders who stepped up to help families during and after the raids, and we include lessons learned from them in our report. Their leadership and compassion are truly inspiring. People can join groups like that (there are many all across the United States, some of them affiliated with various faiths and others that are independent). They can also advocate for reforms to our immigration system by calling their members of Congress, and telling them that hard-working immigrants deserve a path to citizenship, not deportation. During this time that we are still dealing with a pandemic, they can also urge Congress to make sure all families in need, including mixed-status immigrant families, have access to medical care and financial relief through the next COVID-19 relief legislation.

How can people support immigrants' paths to citizenship?

Legislation in Congress is the solution. But in the meantime, we do not have to enforce immigration laws in such a callous way. Hardworking parents should not be priorities for deportation. The current and future administration must put children’s needs at the top of the list when considering whether and how to enforce a law. If we don’t protect them, who will?

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