On the Long-Term Consequences of Deporting Children Who Are US Citizens

I realize I’m not saying anything new when I point out that there are many problems with the narrative on immigration.  The anti-immigration narrative that occupies way too much space in media outlets and in politicians’ talking points  is a remarkably dehumanizing narrative that fails either to address the issue’s complexities and realities, nor does it even treat immigrants as humans. This is most evident amongst those who refer to immigrants and undocumented migrants as   “illegals” rather than people, thereby inherently reducing individuals’ and families’ status to something (and not somebody) that only exists in terms of and against the law, and in contrast to it. However, there is also the problem that even when immigrants are humanized, they are often conceived of as people only within the borders of the United States; their experiences before arriving here or the potential challenge they face after being removed from the US rarely enter into the narrative or into broader consideration of immigrant experiences. Thus, dominant narratives on immigration in the United States both dehumanize and limit our understandings of immigrants’ experiences.

This recent article, however, reveals the very real challenges facing all too many children who have to leave the United States even though they are constitutionally citizens of the United States (the fourteenth amendment is completely clear on this):

Never before has Mexico seen so many American Jeffreys, Jennifers and Aidens in its classrooms. The wave of deportations in the past few years, along with tougher state laws and persistent unemployment, have all created a mass exodus of Mexican parents who are leaving with their American sons and daughters.

In all, 1.4 million Mexicans — including about 300,000 children born in the United States — moved to Mexico between 2005 and 2010, according to Mexican census figures. That is roughly double the rate of southbound migration from 1995 to 2000, and new government data published this month suggest that the flow is not diminishing. The result is an entire generation of children who blur the line between Mexican and American.

[…]

Critics of immigration have mostly welcomed the mass departure, but demographers and educators worry that far too many American children are being sent to schools in Mexico that are not equipped to integrate them. And because research shows that most of these children plan to return to the United States, some argue that what is Mexico’s challenge today will be an American problem tomorrow, with a new class of emerging immigrants: young adults with limited skills, troubled childhoods and the full rights of American citizenship.

“These kinds of changes are really traumatic for kids,” said Marta Tienda, a sociologist at Princeton who was born in Texas to Mexican migrant laborers. “It’s going to stick with them.”

This is absolutely true. Those who advocate expelling children who were born in the United States are simply operating from the (erroneous and flawed) position that, once immigrants and their US-citizen-children are forced out of the United States, the alleged problems will go away. But for many people, including tens of thousands of children who are, by the very terms of the Constitution, US citizens, the problems are only beginning, and just serve as a reminder both of the value of actually providing real reform to the system of immigration and of the problems of our dominant narrative on immigration that refuses to consider the conditions and challenges facing immigrants before they come to the US or after they are forced out.

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About Colin M. Snider

I have a Ph.D. in history, specializing in Latin American History and Comparative Indigenous History. My dissertation focused on Brazil. Beyond Latin America generally, I'm particularly interested in class identities, military politics, human rights, labor, education, music, and nation. I can be found on Twitter at @ColinMSnider.
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