So often we think of undocumented immigrants as young, rootless men scaling border fences with plastic bags and gallon jugs of water slung over their shoulders. Truth is, people come here, set down roots and have kids. And when they get picked up by authorities, whether for a felony or for something petty, like driving without a license, they leave family behind.
According to a report from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to the Senate and House appropriations subcommittees on Homeland Security, immigration officials removed nearly 47,000 undocumented immigrants who had U.S.-born children during the second and third quarters of 2011. In the Dallas district, nearly a thousand removal orders were obtained.
Unfair Park was curious about how these forced separations played out on a case-by-case basis, so we reached out to Dallas immigration attorney Lisa Schwamkrug. These stories, she says, are all too common.
"Over the past several years, in general, the number of deportations and the amount of enforcement have increased. That's an explanation for the staggering number of deportations and deportations of individuals with U.S. citizen children," she said. "None of those numbers surprise me."
Schwamkrug has seen almost every variation. If one parent is removed, and the other is undocumented, often the whole family will leave the country, even if the children are Americans, born and raised. She's seen cases in which one parent is a citizen, yet the entire family will leave the country to be with the deported spouse. Sometimes, to give their children every opportunity, they simply split up.
Schwamkrug recently won a case in which the spouse of a naturalized citizen received a removal order. As the family studied Plan B should she lose, they decided that they'd take their two youngest citizen children with them to the home country, and leave their two oldest children -- a college student and a high school senior -- to finish out their educations.
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Often, when a spouse is removed, they simply return illegally. But if they get caught and charged with criminal re-entry, and were in the country for more than a year the last time without papers, that person is barred from entering the country legally for 10 years. The citizen children must either lose one parent for a decade, or leave the only country they've ever known.
There's a kind of implacable cruelty to these stories, but there are also practical considerations for the rest of us.
"A lot of the times the ones deported are the breadwinners for the family," Schwamkrug says. "If the family remains here and the breadwinner is deported, now you're looking at the family potentially going on public benefits, so you're creating a big public benefits problem. Now the taxpayers are going to have to support the family because the government deported the breadwinner.
"Sometimes the breadwinner is a convicted felon, and other times it's a person that's had no criminal history and got picked up on a traffic ticket."