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Immigrant arrests sever parents, children

Resource type: News

Associated Press State & Local Wire |

Original Source Brothers Ismael, Luis and Edwin Valeriano are U.S. citizens, but their lives have been upended by the arrest of their father as part of an escalating crackdown on illegal immigrants. In March, the boys’ 38-year-old father, Ismael Valeriano, a single parent from Mexico City, was detained for being in the country illegally after Phoenix police arrested him on a misdemeanor DUI warrant. His three children, all 16 and younger, learned about their father’s arrest while they were still at school. For more than a week they were left home alone to fend for themselves. To get money for food, they sold some of their puppies. To get to school, they rummaged through their east Phoenix apartment for bus fare. Neighbors, friends and relatives finally stepped in to buy groceries, pay the rent and care for the children. “I was shocked. I freaked out. I didn’t know what to do,” said Edwin, 16, the oldest of the three children. Luis is 15. Ismael Jr. is 12. The Valeriano brothers are among thousands of U.S.-citizen children being separated from their immigrant parents because of the increased removal of people who are in the country illegally. Immigration officials do not keep track of family data for immigrants who are detained or removed, but officials say the number of children affected is undoubtedly rising. The crackdown has been especially intense in Arizona. “As we identify and remove more people from the U.S., a greater number of these people will have minor children,” said Vincent Picard, a spokesman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Immigration officials say families of arrested immigrants are treated with compassion. Child-welfare advocates, however, say the crackdowns are having a negative effect on children, hurting their emotional, economic and educational well-being. The issue has caught the attention of some Democratic members in Congress, who in May held hearings calling into question recent work-site raids that left hundreds of children separated from their parents. “It’s really hard to imagine something more traumatic to a child’s well-being and development than the forcible separation from a child’s parent or caregiver,” said Miriam Calderon, a senior policy director at the National Council of La Raza, a Latino civil-rights organization. In fiscal 2007, ICE removed 240,779 people from the country, up 55 percent from 2003. ICE officials in Arizona removed nearly 42,500 in 2007, or 18 percent of the total. Left alone On March 17, Edwin Valeriano was in his seventh-period algebra class at Camelback High School when his cellphone rang. It was a family friend calling to tell Edwin that his father had been arrested. “Don’t be scared. Don’t worry. I’m here if you need anything,” Edwin remembers the woman saying. The boys’ parents are separated. Their mother lives with her parents near Renton, Wash. She is battling stomach cancer and is unable to travel or care for the boys. When school ended, Edwin went home and told his two brothers the news. Luis is also a Camelback student. Ismael, who was on spring break, attends Balsz Elementary School. “I just told them straight out. ‘Dad’s in jail. He’s not coming home,’ ” Edwin said. “I felt like crying. But I didn’t want my brothers to get upset, so I tried to stay calm.” The brothers went to bed that night without dinner. The next morning, Edwin and Luis foraged for quarters in their father’s dresser so they could ride the city bus to Camelback High. Usually, their father gave them a ride before heading off to his landscaping job. The brothers ended up living alone for eight days until their grandmother from Washington arrived to take care of them. Taking care of the boys, however, was hard for her because she has diabetes. The brothers sold two puppies for $50 each to help buy food, Edwin said. A grandfather who lives in Phoenix also dropped off microwave dinners. Neighbors and friends delivered more food. But then in April, the brothers were about to be evicted because they couldn’t pay the rent. Some community activists stepped in with hundreds of dollars in donations to help cover their bills. David Alaniz, a community activist, felt compelled to donate money. “What would have happened to these children if no one had been there?” Alaniz said. At one point, the state’s Child Protective Services also became involved, taking action to have the children placed in foster care. Alaniz and several other community activists accompanied the children to court and convinced a judge that the children were better off remaining together with their grandmother. More arrests, hardship CPS has not seen a noticeable increase in the number of children being abandoned because of the heightened immigration enforcement, said Ken Deibert, director of the state Department of Economic Security’s Division of Children, Youth and Families, which oversees CPS. That is probably because in most cases the children of parents who have been deported are taken care of by other family members, Deibert said. But he is concerned that more immigration enforcement could lead to more children being left alone. “There absolutely needs to be effective communication to make sure children are safe,” Deibert said. As work-site raids and arrests of illegal immigrants have increased, ICE has taken steps to make sure children at home are cared for, either by family members or child-welfare officials, said Picard, the ICE spokesman. Parents are asked at least once, and in some cases multiple times, if they are sole caregivers, Picard said. Some deported parents choose to bring their children with them to their home country, even though the children are U.S. citizens, he said. Those who don’t bring them can call relatives in the country legally to come get the children, or they are given the names and telephone numbers of social-service agencies that can help provide care, he said. Ultimately, however, “the responsibility of any negative consequences lies with the parents who have chosen to break the nation’s immigration laws,” Picard said. “We feel tremendous compassion for children. But it’s the parents’ responsibility to take care of their children.” Child-welfare advocates say they understand the need to enforce immigration laws but deporting parents for being in the country illegally is at odds with policies aimed at protecting children. They say ICE needs a better, less haphazard system for making sure children at home are cared for when a parent is removed from the country. “We will see increased hardship on children if this kind of increased enforcement continues without forethought,” said Rosa Maria Castañeda, a researcher at the Urban Institute, a nonpartisan research organization in Washington, D.C. Fighting deportation In Arizona, arrests of undocumented immigrants are skyrocketing because of stepped- up enforcement by ICE and local, county and state agencies. For example, in September 2006, ICE began responding to every call for assistance from local police. Since then, the agency has arrested more than 13,000 illegal immigrants because of such calls. The Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office began arresting illegal immigrants in March 2006 under the state’s anti-smuggling law. A year later, it signed an agreement with ICE that gave trained deputies the power to arrest illegal immigrants and gave jail personnel the authority to check inmates’ immigration status. As a result, deputies have arrested more than 2,160 illegal immigrants and the jail has turned over more than 14,000 of them after they were booked on various crimes. That is how the father of the Valeriano children ended up in the hands of immigration officials. In 2006, Chandler police charged Valeriano with misdemeanor driving under the influence. Valeriano said he served 24 hours in jail and completed 54 hours of DUI classes but never paid the $1,700 fine. A warrant was issued for his arrest. Valeriano said he was arrested on the warrant in March when he went to claim his car from Phoenix police. The car had been impounded in February after Valeriano said he was charged with driving without a license and without insurance. Valeriano said Maricopa County sheriff’s officials placed an immigration hold on him after he was booked into jail. Now he faces deportation. Valeriano said no one asked him after his arrest whether he had any children at home. He called his wife in Washington from jail to let her know the boys were alone. In June, Valeriano was released from a federal facility in Eloy after spending more than three months in detention. Alaniz, the community activist, used a house he owns as collateral to post bond for Valeriano’s release while Valeriano awaits his deportation hearing. His lawyer, Maria Jones, plans to ask a judge to throw out the deportation case and grant Valeriano a green card so that he can stay in the country with his three children. She will argue that Valeriano has lived in the U.S. for nearly 20 years and his removal would place an extreme hardship on his three U.S.-citizen children.

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