Last January, Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers raided dozens of 7-Eleven stores nationwide, arresting 21 workers. In February, ICE detained 100 people across several counties in Southern California and arrested another 232 over the course of a four-day sweep in the Bay Area. These raids attracted national coverage, but relatively little attention has been paid to the aftermath of these mass arrests. How are families and communities affected?
A recent case in rural Tennessee provides the clearest evidence yet that ICE’s raids, supposedly a deterrent to undocumented immigration, are instead causing lasting damage to an entire generation of young Americans. Early on the morning of April 5, federal immigration agents raided the Southeastern Provision meatpacking plant in Bean Station, Tennessee, a town of about 3,000 people. Officials arrested 97 Latino workers, put them in white vans, and transported them to a National Guard armory in nearby Morristown, where they were processed. The effect on this small community was felt immediately: The next day, about 550 children missed school, a number that represents more than 20 percent of the county’s Hispanic student population.
The children, some of whom could be native-born citizens, might have missed school because they depended on a parent to drop them off. Or they might have needed to be at home to watch a younger sibling. Or they might simply have been too distraught to go to class after being separated from a parent or relative. The absences are likely to taper off, but research has shown that the detention or deportation of a parent increases a child’s risk of mental-health problems. Students with detained or deported parents can also become disengaged from academic and career goals, which can have lasting effects on their future adjustment and achievement.
In addition, children whose parents are detained face the economic uncertainty that comes with a sudden and dramatic loss of income. One recent study found that families lost, on average, 70 percent of their earnings within six months of a parent’s detention or deportation. This abrupt change is not distributed equally along gender lines. ICE tends to be a bit more lenient with people who are primary caretakers, and that often means women. For example, of the 97 meatpacking-plant workers who were arrested in April, 32 were later released, many of them mothers of young children. The fathers who remained in immigration detention will now be absent from their children’s lives.