How Deportation Affects Families

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Over the past three decades, changes in US immigration policies and procedures have resulted in a massive increase in deportations. These changes have shifted away from post-World War II-era policies that prioritized family reunification. Deportation is the formal process of removing noncitizens from the United States. If you are an immigrant facing deportation, or you know someone who is, it’s important to get legal advice immediately.

Most deportations begin with ICE putting the noncitizen into “removal proceedings.” A removal case is a court proceeding in which ICE formally accuses the person of being removable (either because they lack documentation, have committed a crime that makes them inadmissible, or violated their visa or other status).

If the judge finds that the noncitizen is deportable, she orders the government to remove them from the country. Deportation requires the government to meet a high burden of proof in order to prove that the noncitizen is deportable. The most common crimes that lead to deportation include unauthorized immigration-related activities, certain types of violent and serious misdemeanor crimes, or multiple convictions of offenses that are considered morally turpitude.

In deciding whether to deport someone, immigration judges use their discretion to weigh the public safety interests of the community against the individual’s history. But this discretion is being eroded by the Trump administration’s crackdown on immigration arrests and deportations. The administration claims it is targeting “violent criminals,” but it is also sweeping up unauthorized immigrants and legal residents who have been convicted of sometimes minor or old offenses.

Once removed from the United States, the impact of deportation can be felt by individuals and families for generations. Families are separated, lives are turned upside down, and communities lose their cultural and economic strength.

Deportation can have devastating psychological, physical, and developmental consequences for children. In addition to the loss of parents and other caretakers, deportations can leave children with an ever-present sense of fear of being arrested or subjected to immigration enforcement actions.

Local efforts are critical for addressing the negative effects of deportation. Schools, places of worship, and community organizations must foster supportive social networks and create a sense of belonging among families affected by deportation. Programmatic efforts should focus on supporting mental health/healing, building community, and collective political action.

Currently, most origin countries do not publicly oppose deportations to the United States as a matter of principle. They often do, however, resist readmission of deported individuals by erecting bureaucratic hurdles that make it difficult for them to respond quickly or at all. This dynamic is a reminder of how a deportation system based on flawed presumptions of deservingness can perpetuate a cycle of racial and economic disparity. Ultimately, deportation is a tool of power politics. As a result, return rates to many origin countries are very low.