Report: Half of Nation’s Undocumented Adults Have Kids

And the federal government's deportation program is ripping families apart.

By Seth Freed Wessler Dec 07, 2011

The Pew Hispanic Center released a new analysis last week that estimates nearly half of the 10.2 million adult undocumented immigrants in the United States are parents of children under 18, and almost two-thirds have lived here for at least a decade. The estimates follow Newt Gingrich’s recent announcement of support for a "path to legality" for undocumented immigrants who have lived in the U.S. for many years.

The estimates, which are based on the latest data from the U.S. Census Bureau, provide some significant context for the Applied Research Center’s recent report "Shattered Families," that included never-before released government data showing the Obama administration deported nearly 46,000 parents of U.S.-citizen children between January and June of 2011. ARC secured the data through a Freedom of Information Act request.

ARC’s report also found that at least 5,100 children of detained and deported parents are currently stuck in foster care.

These new estimates from Pew help explain why the Obama Administration’s historic levels of deportation — almost 400,000 people removed in the last fiscal year — have resulted in such troubling collateral effects despite an official government commitment to family unity.

With orders to continue deporting hundreds of thousands of non-citizens, the federal immigration agency increasingly focuses its attention on the places where they can find bodies. As rates of new immigration to the United States fall, this means going after the increasing number of long-term residents of the United States, often in cities and towns far from the border.

Secure Communities, a federal program that checks the immigration status of everyone booked into a local jail and is responsible for a growing proportion of deportations, operates aggressively in communities in the interior of the United States. The program rounds up noncitizens who have lived in the United States for decades and have deep ties to their communities because it focuses on anyone who’s come into contact with local police for any reason, rather than on those who have recently entered the country.

The Pew study estimates that over a third of undocumented adult immigrants have lived in the U.S. for 15 years or more, a share that has doubled since 2000. Relatedly, the share undocumented adults who have lived in the U.S. less than five years fell by half since 2000.

Few doubt that by continuing to deport hundreds of thousands of noncitizens, the federal government will continue to inflict irreparable damages. Many of the thousands of children in foster care with deported parents will never see their mother or father again.