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Crossroads: Child Welfare and Immigration

How Does Immigration Affect Parents and Children?


  • A growing number and proportion of deportees are parents.1
  • More than 5,100 U.S. children were living in foster care due to undocumented immigrant parents’ detention or deportation in 2011.2
  • About 5.5 million children -- 4.5 million are U.S. citizens -- are living with one undocumented parent at risk of apprehension by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).3

What happens to children or youth in foster care with detained or deported parents?


  • Detained/deported parents have difficulty accessing reunification services.
  • It is hard for detained/deported parents to take part in family juvenile court services hearings or in case planning.
  • Families are at risk of extended or permanent separation.
  • Child welfare agencies and courts may move to terminate parental rights although such actions may counter best interests of the child.
  • They face limited legislative or policy support for reunification-driven practice.

New Signs of Change


  • California passes the Reuniting Immigrant Families Act September 2012.
  • ICE issues directive 11064.1: Facilitating Parental Interests in the Course of Civil Immigration Enforcement Activities to safeguard parental rights of alien parents August 2013.
  • ABA Center on Children and the Law works with California courts and county child welfare agencies to align practice with new Act.


1 Wessler, S. F. et al. (2011). Shattered Families: The Perilous Intersection of Immigration Enforcement and the Child Welfare System. New York: Applied Research Center, 5.

Immigration Policy Center and First Focus (2012). Falling Through the Cracks: The Impact of Immigration Enforcement on Children Caught Up in the Child Welfare System, 4.

Terrazas, A. & Baralova, J. (2009). Frequently Requested Statistics on Immigrants and Immigration in the United States, DC: Migration Policy Institute.