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Immigration and the Separation of Families

| Feb 7, 2024 | Firm News

An article in the New York Times this week brings up “The Heartache of the Immigrant Family.”  It discusses the painful decision some parents make to leave their children behind in their country of origin so that they can make a better life and send money to their families.  Sometimes, they are able to send for their children later after they are able to immigrate legally (or not).  This phenomena is something that has bothered me for a long time – even before I became a mother.  As I have gotten older, I have become less and less judgmental and am very tolerant of peoples’ choices.  However, the last frontier is – if not accepting – understanding how a mother can leave her child behind in search of work or a better life.  Maybe I am too naive because I don’t know what it is like to live in abject poverty.  What troubles me more is when the families are not in abject poverty, and children get passed around between grandparents, aunts and uncles.  Or when they bring three of their children and leave the youngest, fourth child behind so that they can immigrate them “later”.  Why not bring your youngest, too?


What I do know is that this separation affects children permanently.  I have seen the pattern over and over again through the years, particularly with families from one particular country, which I do not want to single out.  The children often have teen pregnancies.  If they immigrate here they may join gangs or shoplift.  They become truants, basically.  In addition to having to cope with living in a new country, they have to learn to live again with a parent that they deep down they feel had abandoned them.


The other half of the article discusses the devastation that deportation has on the immigrant family.  When one or both parents are removed and the U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident children stay behind.  This issue is more understandable.  I would also have a hard time bringing my U.S. citizen child to another country and taking him or her out of high school and the only country he or she may have known.  I am very against the break up of families not necessarily because I am a bleeding heart liberal.  There is a practical purpose to it as well.  The same troublesome psychological and emotional patterns emerge when a family is torn apart.  It can make the child stronger and go out of his or her way to succeed, or more often, can contribute to delinquency and inability to achieve a person’s full potential, especially if it is at a vulnerable age for a child.  Not that all will become criminals – that is too simplistic.  It’s been shown that criminals usually have some type of maternal neglect in common.  Also, there was a special on elephants years ago where the teen elephants whose fathers had been poached and had no male role models became delinquents.  My point is that society as a whole will be more successful with intact families, and that the breaking up of families does not deter illegal immigration, but just creates misery and societal problems.


Well, this is all my opinion and some observations from the last 13 years.  If you are a parent in another country who has the option to bring in that fourth child when you immigrate, please do it.  If you are a lawmaker or work for a government agency where you can exercise some discretion, please think of the big picture.


Grace Alano is an immigration attorney at The Law Offices of Grace R. Alano in San Francisco, CA. Find Grace on  Google+, Twitter and Facebook.