The U.S. immigrant population has been hard hit this year by a record number of deportations, new anti-immigrant legislation in several states as well as a nationwide buildup of racial profiling and discrimination. And perhaps the group most deeply affected by these changes has been immigrant youth and the children of immigrant parents.
According to a study released by online news source Colorlines, 2011 has seen a sharp incline in the number of deportations of parents of U.S. citizen children. Just between January and June of this year, 46,486 undocumented parents were forcibly separated from their families. As a result of this, there are currently at least 5,100 children in foster care, solely due to their parents’ expulsion from the country. Many immigrant parents, hoping to avoid this fate for their children, are now feverishly working with lawyers to make plans for their children’s guardianship should they ultimately face deportation.
As the overall deportation rate rises, many undocumented parents in some states are taking their children out of school, afraid that authorities in these institutions may ask questions regarding their families’ legal residency status. In Alabama in particular, after the implementation of harsh anti-immigrant bill HB 56 in September, many schools reported steep declines in Latino enrollment, despite the fact that the law does not specifically bar undocumented children from public school in the state.
Throughout the country, not only are undocumented students missing out on elementary and high school educations, but now some states are attempting to make it difficult for them to pursue higher education as well. In Georgia, legislators this year banned undocumented students from all public colleges and universities. And in Florida, undocumented students are now required to pay out of state college tuition.
In one of the most tragic stories of the year related to the plight of immigrant youth, 18-year old undocumented Texas student Joaquin Luna committed suicide, reportedly due to a sense of hopelessness he felt regarding his immigration status. After witnessing the failure of Congress to pass the Dream Act as well as the passage of anti-immigrant laws in Arizona, Alabama and elsewhere, friends and relatives say that Luna was distraught over his prospects for his future. Luna’s death struck a chord for thousands desperate for fair and humane solutions to the problems plaguing immigrant youth in this country.
One sign of hope, however, has been the continued efforts of undocumented students in this country to stand up against racism and discrimination and fight for comprehensive immigration reform and the passage of the Dream Act. In Southern Arizona, immigrant youth have been particularly vocal, for example, in fighting the deportation of Dream Act-eligible student Sandra Lopez. The Occupy movement both in Arizona and throughout the U.S. has been a catalyst for youth nationwide to fight back against inequality, including that faced by the immigrant population. And in protests in Charlotte, North Carolina, undocumented students have come out of the shadows in order to test the Department of Homeland Security’s new deportation policy.
This is the fifth part in a series of pieces revisiting the major immigration and border-related stories of 2011. Read additional parts here: part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 6.