In Two Years, Immigration Officials Have Deported Hundreds Of Thousands Of Parents Whose Children Are U.S. Citizens

Over two years, Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials have deported more than 200,000 undocumented immigrants whose children are U.S. citizens, according to data obtained by Colorlines. That number accounts for 23 percent of all deportations between July 1, 2010, and Sept. 31, 2012. And the number of parents who are deported has remained roughly the same since Congress required ICE to track the number of parental deportations, despite “prosecutorial discretion” guidelines from 2011 to prioritize the deportations of people with serious criminal convictions over mothers and fathers:

The guidelines, released on June 17, 2011, in a memo from ICE director John Morton, instructed ICE agents to focus deportation efforts on people with serious criminal convictions, those picked up crossing the border into the U.S., and those who had previously been deported from the country.

The memo also ordered agents making deportation decisions to weigh “the person’s ties and contributions to the community, including family relationships,” and “whether the person has a U.S. citizen or permanent resident spouse, child, or parent.”

In answer to questions about the parental deportation data, ICE officials told Colorlines.com the continued pace of deportations does not reflect a failure to implement prosecutorial discretion, because most deported parents have other factors weighing against them.

“Evaluation of this data in the past has repeatedly shown that the overwhelming majority of these individuals have significant criminal and/or immigration histories placing them within ICE’s enforcement priorities,” wrote agency spokesperson Gillian Christensen in an emailed statement, “therefore making them ineligible for an exercise of prosecutorial discretion.”

“We are in a crisis situation in which we need to start taking action immediately to prevent these needless and often-times permanent separations of American children from their families,” Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA) told Colorlines. Roybal-Allard introduced a bill last year to protect the parental rights of parents who have been detained and deported. According to a 2011 report by the Applied Research Center, at least 5,100 U.S. citizen children are stuck in the foster care after a parent was deported. Within five years, researchers estimate that number could triple to 15,000 at the current rate of deportations.