Children Pay Price of Immigration Raids, Report Says

A new report commissioned by National Council of La Raza details the psychological and economic trauma suffered by children and families affected by immigration raids. One of the communities examined is Greeley, where over 260 immigrants were arrested on Dec. 12, 2006, at the Swift meat-processing plant.Children who have one or both parents detained during immigration enforcement raids suffer negative social, economic and psychological effects from the experience, a new report by the National Council of La Raza and the Urban Institute concludes.

The findings of the report, Paying the Price: The Impact of Immigration Raids on America’s Children, were based on research carried out in three communities – Greeley, Colo., Grand Island, Neb., and New Bedford, Mass.

Local immigrant-rights groups held a meeting Wednesday in Greeley to highlight the impact on children and families after Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents arrested over 260 workers at the Swift meat-processing plant on Dec. 12, 2006. 

“Most people think it’s all over,” said Ricardo Romero of the Greeley community-based organization Al Frente de Lucha. “But for these families…it’s an ongoing struggle. It hasn’t stopped.”

The NCLR report states that for every four adults arrested at Swift in Greeley last December, three children were left behind. Two-thirds of those children are U.S. citizens or legal residents.

“I feel their rights were violated,” said Priscilla Falcon, University of Northern Colorado professor of Hispanic studies, who says she hopes the report will spawn congressional hearings to re-evaluate ICE enforcement priorities. “With a $4.7 billion budget, ICE has to respond to the taxpayers on how they spend this money.”

The NCLR report estimates that there are 5 million children in the United States with at least one undocumented parent. With ICE enforcement ratcheted up since the failure of comprehensive immigration reform earlier this year, more children are suffering the family separation, economic hardship and psychological trauma that follow the detention of a parent, the report states.

According to ICE figures, in 2002, just under 500 undocumented immigrants were arrested during workplace raids. In 2007, over 4,000 were arrested, representing a 600 percent increase.

The report notes that in the days and weeks following the raid, family and community members stepped in to care for children whose parents were detained. Through their efforts and those of the school district, none of the children in Greeley or the other two towns was left behind at school, left at home without adult supervision or moved into foster care.

In all three communities, religious organizations and Latino community groups took the lead in distributing emergency assistance to the affected families.

“We felt it a privilege, not a burden, to help out in any way we could,” said Rev. Steve Brown of Family of Christ Presbyterian Church in Greeley, which provided food, diapers, baby formula and clothes after the raid. “We were trying to respond positively to an unfortunate and sometimes desperate situation.”

According to the report, public social services and some nongovernmental organizations trying to help were not always trusted by families, some of whom hid in their homes for months, refusing to open the door to community leaders attempting to deliver food and supplies. The NCLR report concludes that increased fear, isolation and economic strain caused by losing a source of income have induced serious mental-health problems within the three immigrant communities studied.

Marina, who didn’t want her last name used because her court date is still pending, was detained at the Greeley plant last December. At the time, she was several months pregnant with her fourth child. She was in ICE custody for about 16 hours before she was released.

“Since that day, everything has changed for us,” she said. “I can’t work, and every time I go out into the street I’m scared someone’s going to report me again.”

The report released today outlines a number of recommendations regarding the conduct of workplace raids and the efficacy of the community response. It urges Congress to oversee ICE enforcement activities so that children are protected and argues that schools and public agencies should develop plans to ensure the safety of children and the swift delivery of emergency assistance to families in the event of a raid.

In Greeley, it was two weeks before ICE provided a complete list of the people arrested, which along with a major snowstorm a week after the raid, complicated the relief efforts.

For Marina, 28, and her family, money has never been tighter. They relied heavily on the good wages she earned at Swift. But she is thankful. She could have been sent home to Guatemala, leaving her children without a mom.

“Every time my kids leave for school they tell me to watch out,” Marina said. “They’re scared I’m going to be arrested again and that I won’t come home.”

Nearly one year later, the immigrant community in Greeley is still reeling from the Swift raid. The economic and psychological consequences of the raid persist, as do the community tensions, says Professor Falcon.

“This community is so racially divided, I don’t know if we’ll ever overcome what happened here.”