Most mothers dream of providing their children with the best opportunities in life. Encarnación Bail Romero is no different. I had the honor of meeting Encarnación about a year ago and vividly recall her speaking about her hopes for her children—hopes that drove her to sacrifice everything in order to come to the United States. Today, however, Encarnación’s only wish is to be reunited with Carlos—her youngest son that she has not seen in over three years.

In 2007, Encarnación was apprehended during an immigration raid in a Missouri poultry plant where she worked. Carlos was just six months old at the time. Encarnación was not provided the opportunity to make caregiving arrangements for her son and through a series of events beyond her control, her parental rights were ultimately terminated and Carlos was adopted by an American couple. Not only was Encarnación never provided adequate counsel in her son’s case, but even the notice that terminated her parental rights was provided in a language she does not understand. She has been fighting to get her son back ever since.

Last week the Missouri Supreme Court reversed Encarnación case, finding “manifest injustice” and ordered a new hearing. Yet, while Encarnación and her son may finally have their fair day in court, both mother and child have already suffered the consequences of over three years of separation. Perhaps most tragic is that this situation could have been completely avoided had Encarnción’s due process rights under the Fourtheenth Amendment been upheld and had proper protocols been implemented to allow Encarnación to make decisions regarding Carlos’ care from the moment of her apprehension.

Unfortunately, Encarnación’s case is just one of many cases of families separated every year due to immigration enforcement. In fact, a report by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Office of the Inspector General reveals that over 108,000 immigrant parents of U.S. citizen children were removed from the United States within a ten-year period. Over a third of children impacted were under the age of five at the time of their parent’s deportation. In addition to the adverse impact on child well-being, many parents facing deportation have to ultimately make the difficult decision whether to take their children with them—or in cases like that of Encarnación and Carlos, such a decision may not even be theirs to make.

As enforcement activities are expected to continue at high levels with the expansion of programs such as the 287(g) program and Secure Communities, it is crucial that the DHS immediately develop and implement policies in all of their enforcement programs that make efforts to keep families together. While there may be very different opinions about the extent to which our immigration laws should be enforced, most would agree that enforcement efforts should be carried out in a responsible manner that respects child well-being and family unity. Ultimately, no family should have to suffer the same tragedy as Encarnación and Carlos, especially when there is something that can be done to prevent it.

For more information on Immigration Enforcement, Families, and Child Welfare: