When we talk about mass deportation, we’re talking about 4 million Latinx children without parents

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Approximately one in four Latinx children living in the United States has one undocumented parent, according to the latest research from the Hispanic Research Center published Wednesday — a stunning finding that could have major ramifications in the discussions of mass deportation policies under President Donald Trump.

The brief, co-authored by Wyatt Clarke, Kimberly Turner, and Lina Guzman, offers the most definitive and recent data that estimates anywhere between 25 and 28 percent of all Latinx children, or about 4 million children, have an unauthorized immigrant parent.

“In short, about 1 in 4 of America’s Hispanic children are at risk for experiencing the stresses associated with having a parent who is an unauthorized immigrant,” the report authors wrote in part.

The authors used three separate approaches and multiple sources to find their estimates, notably using numbers derived from various think tanks and federal data. The authors also used figures from a federal survey that directly asks people about their immigration status.

Since he took office, Trump has articulated a mass deportation plan that plays well with his base, conjuring up a phantasmal image of undocumented immigrants as rapists, criminals, and drug dealers. He has also stripped away deportation protections from undocumented immigrants brought to the country as children, pushed a travel ban that excludes visitors from multiple Muslim-majority countries, set a historic low for the number of refugees the United States will accept next year, and tasked local and state-level law enforcement officials with federal immigration enforcement duties.

Following through with his promises, the Trump administration has aggressively conducted several enforcement operations that have swept thousands of immigrants into potential deportation proceedings. To be clear, some of those immigrants have criminal convictions or pending criminal cases. But many caught up in the deportation dragnet include fathers of children with cerebral palsy, fathers of children with autism, and mothers who have been in the country for more than two decades.

When parents are deported, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency insists that it makes efforts that “do not unnecessarily disrupt the parental rights of alien parents and legal guardians of minor children,” ICE spokesperson Sarah Rodriguez told ThinkProgress in an email on Tuesday. She pointed to the latest agency statistics which showed that between July and December 2015, a little more than 15,400 immigrants with at least one U.S.-born child were deported, excluded, or removed.

Custody determinations are made on an “individualized basis considering the unique facts of each case,” Rodriguez explained, including whether the person is a parent or legal guardian of a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident, or the primary care taker of any minor.”

“For parents who are ordered removed, it is their decision whether or not to relocate their children with them,” Rodriguez added. “If parents choose to have their U.S. citizen child[ren] accompany them, ICE accommodates, to the extent practicable, the parents’ efforts to make provisions for their child[ren]. As practicable, ICE will coordinate to afford detained parents or legal guardians access to counsel, consulates and consular officials, courts, and/or family members in the weeks preceding removal in order to execute documents (e.g., powers of attorney, passport applications), purchase airline tickets, and make other necessary arrangements prior to travel.”

In the follow-up to Trump’s hard-line immigration policies, immigrant communities, particularly among the Latinx population, have increasingly signed power of attorney papers to authorize trusted friends and neighbors to make decisions for their minor children in the event that they are deported. But for those immigrants who have not or did not sign such papers, their children could wind up in the already-taxed foster care system. More than 400,000 children are currently in the foster care system, many of whom are struggling with education, employment, and financial issues after they leave the system.

“There are estimates that say children in foster care experience post traumatic stress disorder at equal if not higher rates than returned war veterans,” Sarah Catherine Williams, a research scientist who works on child welfare and foster care issues with the nonprofit research organization Child Trends, told ThinkProgress in a phone call on Monday. A 2005 study by the Harvard Medical School, the University of Michigan, and Casey Family Programs backed up her claim, finding that former foster children suffered PTSD at twice the rate as U.S. war veterans, with only about 20 percent of adults formerly in foster care doing well.

Guzman, one of the report authors, ultimately believes that the most important takeaway isn’t necessarily the massive number that she and her colleagues concluded through their research, but how the pervasive anxiety and fear felt by children could have ripple effects for years to come. Because of their parents’ legal status, U.S. citizen children may not know that they can access services, spinning preventable and treatable problems into much bigger “crisis situations.”

“Chronic stress and repeated traumatic stress really shapes children’s developments,” Guzman said in the same phone call with Williams. “It can shape children physically and cognitively. Stress gets under the skin. It really has the potential to be high impact.”

What’s more, making Latinx children, nearly 94 percent of whom are U.S. citizens, leave their home country so that they can be with their deported parents is a “de-investment” in America, Guzman said. “We’re projecting nearly one-third of the workforce will be Latino and this could have represented part of that workforce.”

Deportations of undocumented parents have already left irreparable damage on children. As the television actress Diana Guerrero wrote in her 2016 book In the country we love: my family divided, her life was “forever altered” when ICE agents detained her parents when she was 14.

After her mother was deported the first time, Guerrero said she developed a neck tic and stopped eating. After her parents were deported together at a later date, she came to have nightmares, sleep-walked her way through classes, and was reliant on the goodwill of other people who temporarily took her in.

“At fourteen, I’d been left on my own,” Guerrero wrote in her book. “Literally. When the authorities made the choice to detain my parents, no one bothered to check that a young girl, a minor, a citizen of this country, would be left without a family. Without a home. Without a way to move forward.”

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