By SUZANNE GAMBOA Associated Press
Feb. 13, 2009
WASHINGTON — More than 100,000 parents whose children are U.S. citizens were deported over the decade that ended in 2007, a Department of Homeland Security’s investigation has found.
The parents were removed from the country on immigration violations or because they had committed crimes. The removals of the 108,434 parents were among the approximately 2.2 million carried out by immigration officials between 1998 and 2007, Homeland Security Inspector General Richard Skinner said in a report made public Friday.
Skinner warned the numbers were incomplete because Immigration and Customs Enforcement doesn’t fully document such cases. The agency also does not keep track of how many children each parent has. He recommended immigration officials start collecting more data on removed parents and their children.
In response to the findings, ICE said it was looking into whether it can better track removals of immigrant parents citizens and the age of the immigrant’s parents. Its study is due in about two months.
“I am saddened, but not surprised to learn that our government, in its harsh anti-immigrant stance, has split hundreds of thousands of families apart over the past decade,” said Rep. Jose Serrano, D-N.Y.
Serrano serves on the House Appropriations Committee’s panel that helps decide how much money is provided to the Homeland Security Department each year. He has filed a bill, the Child Citizen Protection Act, that would allow immigration judges to consider whether immigrants have children who are U.S. citizens when making deportation decisions.
“If, in fact, some (children) were left behind here, then you have the sad tragedy of breaking up families,” Serrano said. “If they were taken back, I would argue the direct result of our actions is the deportation of our citizens. How do you deport a U.S. citizen?”
Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokeswoman Barbara Gonzales said the agency was reviewing the report and was unable to comment immediately.
Children of immigrant families who are U.S. citizens have long created a dilemma for Congress as it has tried to control immigration. People born in the U.S. automatically become U.S. citizens. But American children cannot petition for their parents to become legal U.S. residents until they are at least 21.
Immigration officials reported 319,382 deportations in 2007, compared to 174,813 in 1998. Skinner said the number of parents removed over that period generally increased, with 13,081 individual parents removed in 1998.
Some of the parents were removed from the country more than once, so in the 10 years there were actually 180,466 removals of the 108,434 parents.