The emotional and economic hardships on families separated due to deportation are complicated and devastating. Families have to make the hard decision of leaving the country together or splitting up between countries, figure out alternative ways for income, and deal with the emotional trauma of separating from a loved one.
Recently, in Forks, Wash., where there has been an increased presence of Border Patrol agents, many community members fear deportation and being separated from their family.
Tragically, this fear led to the untimely death of Benjamin Roldan Salinas. On May 14, Salinas, an undocumented forest worker who lived in Forks for years, was stopped by the US Forest Service. The Forest Service called upon Border Patrol for interpretation, as many law enforcement agencies in the Olympic Peninsula do. Upon Border Patrol’s arrival, Salinas fled and jumped into the cold waters of the Sol Duc River.
Lesley Hoare, a community member and medical interpreter, said that “enough fear and enough terror make people do [something] they wouldn’t normally do.” Three weeks after his disappearance, his body was found in the river. Now his family grieves their loss as they prepare for a funeral in Mexico. Salinas leaves behind a girlfriend and two children.
There are community reports that people of color in Forks are followed, chased, and harassed by Border Patrol at locations around town. For example, at the grocery store, gas station, trailer parks, and while driving or walking down the street. There is fear within the community, particularly with children, that Border Patrol will tear apart their families. “When [children] see Border Patrol, police, the park service, or [any] law enforcement official, [they] start crying. Young kids that see law enforcement are automatically traumatized. It’s really horrible,” says Hoare.
“In some ways, [this fear] translates to everyone in uniform,” says a local educator. “Law enforcement is now to be feared. They are to be scared of; they are not the guys you go to for help. I’m safe, but when I see them, they scare me too.”
Immigration reforms in 1996 took away immigration judges’ authority to review individual cases for special circumstances in immigration proceedings. Judges can no longer consider circumstances such as an immigrant’s contribution to the community, family ties, or the economic impact on his/her family when determining an immigrant’s fate. Instead, judges are required to order the immigrant’s removal from the country. These changes have had a devastating effect on the Cambodian community where numbers of young men are deported to Cambodia, even though they were raised in the US.
Tracy Harachi, a social worker at the University of Washington School of Social Work, has worked with immigrant and refugee families most of her life.
“It’s a distressing situation, not only for detainees in custody, but sometimes more so for family members,” says Harachi. “For some family members, they left the country when it was in civil war and [experiencing] genocide. And to think about sending their son or daughter back to that country can be traumatic,” she adds.
Families have a very difficult time surviving when they are separated. “When many of [the deportees] leave, families and the ties to the family are severed. Deportees are dependent on families in the US, because it’s hard for them to find jobs and generate income in Cambodia,” reports Harachi. “That is an enormous strain on families and relationships. Often families will dissolve. One deportee has daily Skype calls with his wife and two kids,” which is an exception says Harachi.
Between 1997-2007, the federal government deported the legal permanent resident mother or father of 103,000 children and 86 percent of the children were US citizens, according to the University of California at Berkeley. In 2010, the federal government deported almost 400,000 people across the country. Under President Obama, the numbers of deported individuals have skyrocketed and even surpass the deportations under President Bush. “The Northwest region deportations neared 10,000 in 2010 – a 150 percent jump since 2003 – and over half of those deportations were of non-criminals,” says Charlie McAteer of OneAmerica.
Hoare places those numers in a personal light. “Anywhere [I see Border Patrol], all I can think of is, ‘Please let me find out that all my friends are home tonight,’” says Hoare.