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When a Parent Is Taken from the Home

Causa Oregon

As part of a more aggressive effort, ICE--U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement--has increased arrests in the Northwest by a third this year, to more than  a thousand.  Possibly lost in the numbers is what it's like to have a parent taken from the home permanently.

In order to protect her identity, we are calling her Rosario.  She and her husband--both undocumented--worked side by side cooking at a Eugene Mexican restaurant for years and eventually bought the business. Then, just before Christmas, her husband was returning home from getting groceries when he was arrested by ICE:

"It's a real surprise because he is a good person. He is a really good father. He don't have any problems here in the United States."

They had been in the United States for 15 years.  Their kids were born here and are citizens.  With her husband gone, she couldn't make the payments on the  restaurant:

"This is hard for me because we lose the money. We lose the business when we lose everything, so I don't have nothing right now."

They became homeless and slept in the restaurant for a time. 

Oregon has about 120-thousand undocumented immigrants, but, according to the Migration Policy Institute, 40 percent live with at least one child who is a citizen.  An Institute study shows that after a parent is deported, the kids are at risk for psychological trauma, something that Rosario is already seeing:

"They need a father because the eight years, he is a boy. He ask me many, many times for the daddy. Mom, when will daddy come? When he come to play with me? Because he played with him much with the ball in the park.  All kids need a daddy."

The probable reason that ICE arrested Rosario's husband last winter is that he had been ordered deported before, four years ago.  And while ICE enforcement has increased markedly in the Northwest in recent months, Portland immigration attorney Phil Hornick points out that Rosario's husband was picked up during the Obama administration:

"Before January 20th, it was not unusual that ICE would arrest someone that had a prior order of deportation.  Since the new president took office, we're seeing more of that both regionally and nationally. You could say, in a simple way, it's easier to deport them the second time than it is the first time."

In fact, ICE is not doing anything new so much as doing what it's always done, just more of it:

"ICE comes looking for someone at a particular location, whether or not they're there, there's other people there. ICE decides to interrogate other people who are there, and perhaps take them into custody. I think there's more of that now than there was before January 20th.

That's apparently what happened in Woodburn last February when ICE officers stopped two vans and arrested 19 people on their way to work, harvesting salal.  Ramon Ramirez, President of the farmworkers union PCUN, says none had a criminal record.  Since then, he  says the targets have been individuals, often arrested at their homes:

"It's created chaos in the community."

ICE  arrests in the Northwest are up 33 percent this year through the month of April.   Most of the increase involves non-criminals, yet overall ICE says most of those arrested were convicted of crimes.  Ramirez is working with a dozen immigrants picked up by ICE since the mass arrest:

"These are people who have some kind of legal issues. Some are involving domestic violence. The more serious has been mainly driving under the influence."

ICE says this year it has arrested immigrants previously convicted of sex crimes, assault, and drug offenses. However Syracuse University's Transitional Records Clearinghouse says ICE includes minor infractions, such as speeding tickets, in its criminal data base.  Ramon Ramirez says community groups in Woodburn are trying to prepare families for what might happen:

"Getting people to sign what's called an affidavit of support, giving temporary custody of their minors to a family member, to a neighbor, so in case the family is picked up, the kids have a place to stay. I mean when your loved one gets picked up, it's traumatic times."

Church groups in Marion County prepare food for families when a parent is  deported, help kids get passports, offer spiritual help. 90-percent of the time it is the father who is deported, often the bread winner, and that, ironically, increases the demand for social services.  At the Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Salem, members are preparing a physical sanctuary space for ICE arrestees whose only offense is that they are undocumented. Michael Pollard is on the sanctuary team:

"Yes, we do need to deport undocumented immigrants. We do need to get rid of those that are a danger to society. But to take a mother, to take a father, it just does not make sense to me. I think it's unjust. It's inhumane.  It's not love."

Up until now, it has been ICE policy not to go into churches. An ICE spokeswoman says the Northwest Office is gearing up to hire more officers, part of a near-doubling of the force, which is called for in an executive order from President Trump.

Funding for KLCC's "Borders, Migration, and Belonging" series provided by the Wayne Morse Center for Law and Politics at the University of Oregon.