As an advocate for children, it has been difficult to witness the pain and suffering of innocent children across the country who have endured life-altering trauma due to immigration policies that neglect to consider their well-being. In America, no child should have to live in fear of having a parent taken from them overnight or have to worry about whether or not their parent will arrive to pick them up from school. And no child with loving, devoted parents should be unnecessarily forced into the child welfare system. Yet, a new groundbreaking report reveals that thousands of children are entering the system as a result of irresponsible immigration enforcement measures.

The report, released today by the Applied Research Center (ARC), estimates that more than 5,100 children are currently in foster care due to their parent’s detention or deportation. The report also reveals that more than 46,000 parents of U.S. citizen children were deported within the first six months of 2011. If this current trajectory continues, ARC estimates that more than 15,000 additional children will be in foster care within the next five years as a result of immigration enforcement. Furthermore, once a child enters the system, the report reveals that parents often face insurmountable challenges in reunifying with their children.

In fact, ARC found that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), makes family reunification nearly impossible. Detained parents are sometimes transferred to detention centers far away from their children and are often unable to comply with reunification plans or participate in family court proceedings. Systematic bias against undocumented parents within the child welfare system, as well as a lack of consistent policies for handling these unique cases further threaten the chances of reunification.

While these findings are alarming, the report also points to several common sense solutions that can reduce the unnecessary harm to children and preserve family unity during enforcement operations. Given the Administration’s recent announcement to prioritize the use of prosecutorial discretion in certain cases, efforts should be made to prioritize the release of parents whenever possible and to allow for parents to make child care arrangements when needed.

It’s also time for us to stand united as Americans and refuse to compromise our family values or the well-being of our children in the name of immigration enforcement. It’s no longer possible to turn a blind eye to the silent suffering of our neighbors, clergy members, and fellow parents. As we prepare for our holiday gatherings, let us not forget the child who will be forced to face an empty chair at his dinner table, or the child whose only holiday wish will be to see her mother again.

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