The Issues

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Introduction to the Campaign

The voices of children are rarely heard in the immigration debate. A Wish for All Families invites all children to express an important wish: an end to deportations and detentions so that families and communities can stay together.

Wishes can be written by children of any age—both by children whose families are directly at risk of deportation and by others who can imagine the impact of family separation on their friends and schoolmates. Wishes can be writing and/or drawings. Together, they will all document a powerful wish: that all of our families and communities be able to stay together.

A Wish for All Families is an extension of a two-month campaign called A Wish for the Holidays. During November and December 2011, we collected thousands of Wishes from children around the country, and then hand-delivered them to members of Congress and the Obama Administration, right before the holidays. Those letters are now archived in our online gallery.

Please help us continue to collect these important wishes. A Wish for the Holidays is a project of We Belong Together (WBT), an initiative of the National Domestic Workers Alliance and the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum. WBT seeks to highlight the effects of unjust immigration laws on women, children and families.

Background on the Issues

In recent years, the federal government’s expansion of immigration enforcement programs has led to a sharp increase in detentions and deportations. Over 1 million immigrants have been deported during the three years that Obama has been in office—a number far greater than under previous presidencies.1 While debates rage about the United States’ “broken” immigration system, the criminalization of immigrants has intensified. The impact of these policies on children goes largely unnoticed.

In the six months between January and June, 2011, the US deported more than 46,000 parents of U.S.-citizen children. This number represents almost one in four of the people deported during this period, a dramatic increase over previous rates of deportations of parents.2 In the previous ten years, the parents of 100,000 children were deported.3 In many cases, these parents have been forced to leave their children behind, or have had their children forcibly removed and placed in foster care.4 There are currently well over 5,000 children currently in foster care around the country, who are unable to reunite with their families as a result of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detentions and deportations.5

The rising number of deportations only paints part of the picture. Immigration detentions put families and children in legal limbo. While their cases are being reviewed, immigrants can be held in detention centers for days, weeks or months. 363,000 people were detained during 2010, with an average of 36,000 immigrants in detention facilities on any given day.6 Immigrants are often sent to detention facilities far from their homes, making it difficult or impossible for families to maintain contact with their families, or to comply with court requirements that would enable them to maintain custody of their children.

The climate of fear created by these detentions and deportations is severe. Furthermore, policies like Secure Communities and the federal 287(g) program—which enable collaboration between ICE and local law enforcement—have had a chilling impact on the estimated 5 million children in the U.S. who have at least one undocumented parent. It is estimated that nearly three-quarters of these children are U.S. citizens.7

The impact of family separation on children is profound. Children whose families have been torn apart as a result of deportation and immigration detention often face financial hardship, emotional and behavioral problems, deep declines in educational performance, and negative health outcomes. Overall, children experience severe psychological trauma when separated from their primary caregivers. In some cases, children are present when police or ICE officers detain their parents for reasons as minor as traffic offenses. Witnessing these incidences creates lasting imprints. In addition, children are often put in positions of caretakers for younger siblings when their parents are detained. Children across the country live in fear of their parents being deported.

It is not only the children of deported and detained parents who suffer as a result of immigration enforcement. Decades of work by domestic violence prevention advocates are undermined by policies that deter women from calling the police. Domestic violence survivors are reluctant to call the police for fear that the police will deport them or their spouse, leading to sometimes fatal consequences. In erroneous dual arrests, domestic violence victims can be arrested. Survivors of sexual assault will avoid hospitals and services fearing the involvement of the police. Programs like 287(g) and Secure Communities trump any public safety obligations by preventing immigrant victims from feeling safe reporting crimes.

Broader communities are also negatively affected by immigration enforcement activities. When fear takes hold in communities, immigrant families often pull their children out of school, resulting in declining school enrollment, classroom instability, and a drop in enrollment-related school district revenue. ICE spends approximately $2.55 billion each year on Detention and Removal Operations,8 at a time when communities face cutbacks in social services. Detentions and deportations rob communities of vital resources—the most important of which are stability and freedom from fear.


  1. For example, the federal government estimated it would deport 400,000 people during the 2009-2010 fiscal year, 25% more than the total number of deportations in 2007 under the Bush Administration. Deportation of illegal immigrants increases under Obama administration, Washington Post, July 26, 2010,
  2. Shattered Families, the Perilous Intersection of Immigration Enforcement and the Child Welfare System, Applied Research Center, 2011,
  3. Facing our Future: Children in the Aftermath of Immigration Enforcement, The Urban Institute, February, 2010
  4. By ICE’s own admission, on average, 17 children are placed in state care each day, as a result of the detention and removal of immigrant parents.
  5. Shattered Families, the Perilous Intersection of Immigration Enforcement and the Child Welfare System, Applied Research Center, 2011,
  6. Ibid.
  7. Facing our Future: Children in the Aftermath of Immigration Enforcement, The Urban Institute, February, 2010
  8. In the Child’s Best Interest? The Consequences of Losing Lawful Immigrant Parent to Deportation, International Human Rights Law Clinic, UC Bekeley, March 2010,