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Fate of Illegals’ Children, Possessions Complicated

Resource type: News

The Times News |

by Keren Rivas For those living in the United States illegally, deportation does not only mean a trip back home. What happens to possessions? What becomes of their children? There are ways for people facing deportation to ensure that their children are taken care of and property is claimed by relatives or friends, but the process is not a simple one once the person enters the judicial cycle, according to attorneys. When it comes to custody of children, “short of having a court award rights to a certain individual, there is really not much that people can do,” said Burlington immigration attorney Ebher Rossi, adding that a power of attorney is not enough in those circumstances. Rossi said that while it’s the parents’ responsibility to make the necessary arrangements for their children, if the person is detained unexpectedly, things can get complicated. With the political climate in Alamance County, he said, “If you’ve got parents who are deported and their children are left behind, do people who may have the children in the home, do they feel comfortable enough to go to the authorities to report it?” he asked. He continued, “You’d like to think they are properly being taken care of.” But, he added, “We don’t know that that’s always the case.” He said that unless someone brings a complaint about the children being abused or mistreated, authorities do not get involved. Sometimes, that involvement comes in too late, he added. Alamance County Social Services Director Susan Osborne said that for her agency to get involved, there has to be an instance of dependency, abuse or neglect. So far, she said, “we haven’t had any situations where DSS had to take custody because of deportation.” However, she added, if the parent or parents cannot make a plan for placement, DSS can get involved because it falls under dependency, in which children need assistance or placement because there is no parent present or the parent is unable to provide for their care. Jeremy Ireland, director of Centro: La Comunidad, an information and referral agency for Hispanics in Alamance County, said that when a parent is deported, all parties involved make an effort to find the right placement. But, like Rossi, he also said that it is not clear what happens with the children when both parents are detained. “There is a lot of concern about that,” he said. “I think that’s an answer that is not easy to find.” Ireland said that the agency has seen an increase in requests for financial assistance as a consequence of having a loved one detained. The agency has also seen an increase in the number of people receiving counseling at the center, something that he believes is also connected with having family members detained. Barbara Gonzalez, an Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokeswoman, said that while the department is “very cognizant of children,” ultimately, what happens to them is up to their parents. She said that children of deportees who have been born in the United States have two choices: return to their parents’ home country or remain in this country with an appropriate caregiver designated by the parent or parents. On many occasions, she said, and for humanitarian reasons, the department has allowed detainees to be out while they make the necessary arrangements for their children. “It is an unfortunate situation that (the parents) put their children in,” Gonzalez said. But, she added, “They need to account for their actions and need to comply with the law.” In cases when ICE determines that the children of deportees are also in the country illegally, the entire family is processed for deportation. “We keep the family unit together and we work to deport them as a family,” she said. Among other things, Gonzalez said that ICE uses the T. Don Hutto Family Residential Facility in Texas to house alien families who are in the process of being deported. WHEN IT COMES TO possessions or property, deportees have a couple of options. People can give power of attorney to a friend or relative over their properties, Rossi said. This is a procedure that can be done at any point, though it becomes more complicated when the person is incarcerated. “It becomes a huge entanglement when they are in jail,” said Rowena Khot, a Graham attorney who specializes in immigration. Even when they can draft and prepare the document in jail, they cannot notarize it inside the jail, Rossi said. Khot said she is seeing more people who are in the country illegally preparing these documents in advance so that if they are ever arrested they don’t have to worry about what happens to their children and possessions when they are gone. If a deportee had a house mortgage and no arrangement had been made the property would likely be foreclosed. If the property is paid in full but nobody continues paying taxes on it, then the jurisdiction where the property lies has power over the property. By law, bank accounts, wages, insurance policy proceeds and other property that has been abandoned for one to five years is turned over to the N.C. Department of the State Treasurer for safekeeping. The interest earned on these funds goes to “needy and worthy North Carolina public university and community college students,” according to the State Treasurer’s Web site. Sara Lang, a spokeswoman with the department, said the unclaimed property is held “for an unlimited period of time” to give owners the opportunity to claim it at any time. Gonzalez said people who have a deportation order and have ignored it but who don’t have a criminal history can avoid detention by participating in the self-reporting program, a pilot program ICE started this month in Charlotte. The program allows these fugitives to present themselves at the center and schedule a departure date without having to be in detention. Gonzalez said that this allows people up to 90 days to put things in order before being deported. “If you are a fugitive and you are in the community, you might very well be arrested and taken and be deported,” she said. With the program, she added, and for those eligible, “We are giving the opportunity to work with us and schedule a departure.” Though she has no numbers as to the number of fugitives living in North Carolina, Gonzalez said that there are more than 500,000 people in this category nationwide. Of that number, 80 percent do not have a criminal history, which means they qualify for the program, she said. The program, which is only available in five different offices nationwide, ends Aug. 22.

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Human Rights & Reconciliation, Immigration & Migration

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