“As they were leaving today—I heard about the immigration law—and it broke my heart to see them walk out the door and think that I might not see them again. That broke my heart because they are children who I have a relationship with. They are real live human beings. They are not characters in a play.”
– Linda Harris, English as a Second Language teacher at Foley Elementary, Alabama
Alabama’s new “show me your papers” immigration law is ripping apart families in the state.
That’s because over half of the estimated 120,000 undocumented immigrants who live in Alabama—which is 2.5 percent of the state’s population—live in “mixed status” families where one or more of the family members are U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents. And 85 percent of the children of Alabama’s undocumented immigrants live in “mixed status” families.
Under the new law, H.B. 56:
1. Parents of citizen kids are living in fear of losing their children. The trauma and pain of separation is now a part of daily life for parents of U.S.-citizen and lawful-status children in Alabama. Asone undocumented parent said, “Now, they can take me away from my children anytime.”
2. 28,000 citizen children are vulnerable to losing a parent. The Urban Institute estimates that 28,000 U.S. citizen children in Alabama have noncitizen parents. These children are living with the daily fear that their parent may be picked up and deported. Parents, for their part, are signing “power of attorney” documents to allow friends or family members to legally care for their children if they are deported. “People are scared, and they want to be sure their kids are safe if something happens to them,” said Jazmin Rivera, a case manager at the Hispanic Interest Coalition of Alabama.
3. U.S. citizen children will be forced into foster care. While some of the children whose parents are deported may have other relatives who could care for them, a high number could be forced into state custody and foster care if their parents are deported and there is no one left to care for them. Alabama state officials themselves are concerned about the potential impact on the already overburdened state foster care system. And a new national study has found that most child welfare departments do not have any systemic policies in place to keep families united when parents are detained or deported. According to the study, in the first six months of 2011, the government deported more than 46,000 parents of U.S.-citizen children, while at least 5,100 children currently living in foster care had parents who were either detained or deported.
4. Families are being uprooted and forced to flee the state. In order to avoid having their families torn apart, some families are simply fleeing the state. As Helen Rivas, a Hispanic advocate in the state, states, the new law “has created fear. I had one lady tell me that every time she saw a patrol car, she panicked. People are scared to death. The most nervous folks packed up and left immediately.”
5. Families are losing their breadwinner. Mixed-status families who lose their breadwinner will suffer long-lasting and severe consequences. U.S. citizen spouses and children will have to take on additional jobs, potentially drop out of school, and seek additional social services just to keep the family afloat. The resulting cycle of potential poverty and despair is a prescription for instability and a detriment to the entire fabric of Alabama communities.
6. Families are being forced out of their housing. One of the insidious effects of the new Alabama law is that a parent has to prove lawful status in order to rent an apartment or even to renew a license for a mobile home. U.S. citizen children will be forced into less secure dwellings or even into the street as entire mixed-status families are made homeless simply because the adult in the household cannot “show papers.”
7. Parents cannot protect or provide for their children. One undocumented mother described the fear she feels: “Every time I leave I don’t know if I will come back. I can’t stop working. My daughters need shoes and other things.” Another mother says, “They are going to investigate us through our children.” And yet another mother of four says “”We’re afraid to go to Walmart. I’m afraid to walk the kids up there to get the bus. I am afraid to drive.”
8. Children are being traumatized. Some undocumented children themselves have known no other home than the United States. Brought to the country as infants or small children, these children face potentially life-long trauma if they are deported to a country where they have no ties and don’t even speak the language. Other children are traumatized by what they see happening to their friends and neighbors. As one undocumented high school student said, “It was horrible having to see a friend that I consider almost like a sister cry her eyes out as she is being forced to say goodbye to her little sister and her mom.”
9. U.S. citizen children are being forced to provide for their families. One young student described how his life has changed since the new law took effect: “We don’t go out unless we need to. I like—I drive around for my mom. So if we get pulled over or something happens, I can show my driver’s license. And I go to Wal-Mart and get groceries and everything like that.”
10. The basic social unit of Alabama society is being torn apart. Families are the basic social unit of a strong and vibrant economy and society. The impact of family separation will extend throughout the state of Alabama. As one U.S. citizen son of an undocumented mother put it: “At school we were taught about the Civil Rights period. This is the same thing—it’s happening again. I make good grades, so does my brother. We are normally at the top of our class. I try my hardest to be good. The people making this law, they need to put themselves in our shoes and think about how they’re splitting families.”