Social workers speak out against immigration policy

Nina Rabin, who authored the report, says immigration policies are taxing Arizona's foster care system and are denying parental custody once families are re-united.

Social workers speak out against immigration policy

CREATED Jan 17, 2012

Reporter:  Jessica Chapin

TUCSON (KGUN9- TV) - Social service workers are speaking out against immigration policy on the same day Border Patrol announced a new crackdown on illegal immigrants. 

Border Patrol will stop it's revolving door policy of sending border-crossers back to Mexico, and start enforcing harsher penalties.  During a press conference at the ASU School of Social Work in Tucson, representatives from all over the field addressed their concerns with what they say is a broken system that breaks families apart.  They pointed to a recent Applied Research Center study entitled "Shattered Families."

"The ripple effect of these policies, of the anti-immigrant and anti-Mexican sentiment that has flooded across our nation is being felt directly every single day by children in school, by people in hospitals, all across the country," said Cat Rodriguez with Derechos Humanos, an organization that provides aid to immigrants.

A volunteer with the organization representing families spoke about her concern for the children, saying, "We have tried to work with them very hard, but bottom line, they need their parents."

Many in social services argue the country's current policy to detain illegal immigrants results in splitting parents from their children who are U.S citizens, for long periods of time.  Often times, they say while parents wait to find out about their status, children are forced into the foster care system.  In several cases, parents are ultimately denied permanent custody because of what UA law professor Nina Rabin says is a communication breakdown between agencies.

"Literally people don't even know the phone numbers or names of these facilities so they can't locate the parents so their parents are totally cut out of the system," she said.  Rabin recently conducted extensive research on the topic, finding several instances where Child Protective Services could not reach parents because they were detained, thereby missing the opportunity for mandatory evaluations and checks required to regain their children.

Policy analyst Yani Lincroft says the laws need to change to allow parents to fight for their status from the outside.

"I think the issue here is individuals need to understand... what it really means when it plays out to families," she said.

She says she's also concerned about the Border Patrol's new plans to crack down.

"I'm really concerned about whether or not this will lead to more time individuals have away from their family," she said, "away from their ability to care for folks that depend on them."

Lincroft says the situation is also draining child welfare resources, as 46 thousand deportees  during the first six months of 2011 were parents of U.S citizen children.

The ARC study offers several policy suggestions in addition to allowing parents to fight their immigration battle without detention.  They include providing more education about parents' legal rights, and better access to attorneys who specialize in those kinds of cases.