Arrested While Bringing His Son Gifts—Then Deported

Erica Bryant Associate Director of Writing
Jun 14, 2023

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) did not tell Ramon’s* family that it would be deporting him to Guatemala on Wednesday. It was 2015, and Ramon’s five-year-old son Julio* was visiting his father in immigration detention on a Sunday afternoon. When he said goodbye through the glass, he did not know it would be the last time he would see him in person. Now 13, Julio has not seen his father since.

For years, the United States intentionally and horrifically separated children from their parents to deter immigrants from coming to the United States. Though it is no longer an explicit weapon, family separation has long been—and still is—a horrible result of U.S. immigration practices.

Vera reviewed ICE reports to Congress and found that, between 2015 and 2020, the government ordered more than 156,000 parents of U.S.-born children be removed from the United States. Julio is one of countless children who has grown up without their parent due to an immigration system described as failing by immigrant rights advocates and immigration judges alike.

As Father’s Day approaches, Ramon and Rosita*, Julio’s mother, are saving money to send Julio to see his father in Guatemala this summer. Rosita hopes for systemic change that will prevent other families from experiencing the heart-wrenching separation theirs has been forced to endure.

There are too many stories like Julio’s. In 2019 alone, ICE reported removing 27,980 people with U.S.-born children, with devastating consequences. Beyond the obvious psychological and emotional trauma, children of deported parents become more likely to experience housing insecurity and economic instability, as the deported parent is no longer able to provide resources or support.

Many of these parents might have been able to stay in the United States with their families if they had access to attorneys who could help them obtain legal status. Unlike in criminal court proceedings, people facing deportation are not entitled to an attorney in immigration court unless they can afford one. The majority cannot. Immigration court proceedings are notoriously complicated, and in many cases, people are not even aware of the paths they might take to obtain legal status. An attorney might have been able to help Ramon, for example, who was a possible candidate for a U visa due to a crime committed against him while he was working on a dairy farm in New York. But he had no way to gather necessary documents, including police reports, while confined in immigration detention.

Every day, families are unnecessarily separated because of unjust and inhumane immigration practices. One step toward building a just immigration system is ensuring that all people facing deportation at least have an attorney to protect their rights. Having an attorney greatly increases a person’s chance of success in immigration court. Studies show that detained immigrants with attorneys are more likely to be granted bond than immigrants who do not have representation—as much as 3.5 times more likely—potentially enabling their release from detention. And detained people with representation are up to 10 times more likely to obtain relief from deportation than those without representation. More than half of people lack legal representation in the more than 2.2 million cases pending in immigration court. This means that adults, families, and even unaccompanied children are forced to appear alone, defending themselves against trained government attorneys.

Vera and the National Partnership for New Americans have launched the Fairness to Freedom campaign to push for legislation that establishes a universal right to federally funded legal representation for anyone facing deportation who can’t afford an attorney. In April, the Fairness to Freedom Act was introduced in Congress to establish this right. If passed, this legislation will save lives and keep families together. It is a key step toward an immigration system that treats people humanely and respects their rights.

*Names changed to protect identity.