In his book, Forgotten Citizens: Deportation, Children, and the Making of American Exiles and Orphans, Dr Luis Zayas gives a human face to the immigration debate by documenting the experiences of children born in the USA to undocumented parents. Virginia, Felicita, Armando, Marcus, Alejandra, and Omar are US citizens but also vulnerable children. Their stories tell of the fear, depression, anxiety, and suffering experienced when their parents must make an impossible choice: exile or orphan their children. Written primarily for immigration enforcement and border patrol workers, child protective services personnel, mental health providers, and other public servants who interact with the immigrant population, Forgotten Citizens also provides insight to educators, both native and foreign who often interact with these children and are likely unaware of their situations. Additionally, it might be of relevance to scholars and academics interested in the experience faced by children born to undocumented parents. Readers will be moved by Zayas’s accounts of the harsh, inhumane experiences of undocumented parents and their citizen children. Zayas first began working with mixed status families when called to do a psychological evaluation of 5-year-old Virginia, hoping that this would deter her father’s deportation process. This experience prompted him to conduct research with similar communities and ultimately author Forgotten Citizens, where he illustrates their experiences with the law, the daily lives of children living in the shadows, and the possible outcomes of detection and deportation. The journey of undocumented parents usually begins with risking immeasurable dangers to come to the USA (p. 33) and proceeds to dealing with laws, policies and anti-immigrant sentiments that stack against them (chapter 3). As a consequence of this constant vigilance, US-citizen children suffer psychological and emotional tolls, as illustrated by Felicita and Alejandra who learn about their parent’s legal status and begin a process of censoring everything they do and say. Citizen children who experience their parents’ incarceration and deportation are further traumatized. Deportation and incarceration often force them to be exiles or orphans. In some cases, citizen children are forced to become exiles from the only country they have ever known when returning to their parents’ country. In other instances, they become orphans, left behind in the care of (best case) family members or (worst case) the foster care system. Zayas closes on a hopeful note: ‘perhaps soon after this book is published, the United States will have reformed its immigration system’ (p. 213), proposing a paradigm change in how we work with citizen children, and a move towards ‘the best interest for the child doctrine’ (p. 217) for all agencies involved (i.e. Department of Homeland Security, the court system, Children Protective Services). The author argues the best interest for the child doctrine is a ‘legal staple in American family and juvenile law …’ (p. 217) and that this principle also protects the adults around these citizen children since they play a pivotal role in the children’s development. Additionally, Zayas offers actionable ideas to repair some of the harm already done to both exiles and orphans. Such repairs would include identifying citizen children both in the USA and abroad and offering educational and health services, mentoring, and support (p. 222). For families who are currently in legal proceedings, the author calls for an urgent reconciliation between the child welfare system and immigration courts. This open communication between the agencies has the potential of lessening the trauma experienced by citizen children and their parents at the time of arrest, detention, or deportation when mothers are ripped from their children and not allowed to attend court hearings regarding the future of the minors (p. 218–219). Little did Zayas know that soon after the publication of his book, immigrant parents’ and children’s lives would come under even more acute stress. The 2016 presidential election has resulted in a heated political climate, strong anti-immigrant, anti-Hispanic sentiment, terrifying ICE raids, and a great deal of uncertainty among immigrants, regardless of status. In the current political era, the effects on citizen children are palpable and now in the public eye; Huffington Post writers recently captured the feelings of fear, anxiety and anger felt by elementary school students in Central Texas as they experienced a recent wave of immigration arrests during the months of March and April of this year (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/elementary-school-kids-terrified-by-immigration-arrests_us_58a76321e4b07602ad548e14). When asked by her teacher to write or draw what she felt, one child wrote ‘I’m scared they’ll take my mother or my father’ demonstrating the fear of separation, level 4 of Dreby’s Pyramid of Deportation Burdens, as discussed by Zayas. This drastic turn of events leads the reader to ask how Zayas would have presented the last chapters of his book in the Trump era. Regardless of the current situation, Zayas’ contributions to this community and to his readership in general are immeasurable. Although Zayas and other authors have done academic research with this specific population before (e.g. Allen et al. 2013; Vargas and Ybarra 2017; Zayas et al. 2015) the author provides an in-depth legal background to help us understand the complexities of the issues, such as the transcripts of an immigrant-court decision (chapter 7). He provides research-based findings on the psychological and emotional toll suffered by the US-citizen children of undocumented parents due to their parent’s legal status. These descriptions are pivotal to understanding the effects of deportation on the children, families and entire communities. Zayas, like Lee (2015) in his review of Growing up Outside the Law, makes an important contribution by shifting the rhetoric from ‘illegal criminal’ to ‘sacrificing, loving, providing parent’ when referring to the undocumented parent’s decision of risking everything to come to a country where they can provide a better life for their children. Additionally, Zayas draws a clear connection between the health of mixed status families and the ‘strength, productivity, and economic growth’ of the USA (p. 226–227). Zayas leaves the reader with a palpable human account of the punishing and burdensome realities that our neighboring, immigrant, mixed status families must live with just for aspiring to the American Dream. References Allen B., Cisneros E. M., Tellez A. ( 2013) ‘The Children Left Behind: The Impact of Parental Deportation on Mental Health’, Journal of Child and Family Studies , 24/ 2: 386– 92. Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Lee S. ( 2015) ‘Review of: Growing up outside the law’, Harvard Law Review , 128/ 5: 1405– 51. Vargas E. D., Ybarra V. D. ( 2017) ‘U.S. Citizen Children of Undocumented Parents: The Link Between State Immigration Policy and the Health of Latino Children’, J Immigrant Minority Health , 19/ 4: 913– 20. Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Zayas L. H., Aguilar-Gaxiola S., Yoon H., Rey G. N. ( 2015) ‘The Distress of Citizen-Children with Detained and Deported Parents’, Journal of Child and Family Studies , 24/ 11: 3213– 23. Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS PubMed © The Author 2017. Published by Oxford University Press. All rights reserved. For Permissions, please email: email@example.com
Migration Studies – Oxford University Press
Published: Sep 27, 2017
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