Torn Apart: Immigration and the American Family


We are a compassionate nation. We look back with sadness and horror at parents and children separated in centuries past, and then turn our heads when it happens in our day. The separation of parents and children is not confined to history.

American history is replete with stories of parents and children forever separated. Slaves were sold as individuals and families were wrenched apart to suit their owner’s needs. The tide of 19th century European immigration brought children to America on their own or parents without their kids hoping that family members would one day follow.

Immigration is surely a political issue, but it is also a parenting and family issue. According to the Pew Hispanic Center, approximately 17 million people live in families with an undocumented family member. About 4.5 million children who were born in the US have at least one undocumented parent.

Academics from Harvard and NYU wrote in the New York Times, “The extraordinary acceleration in the dismantling of these families, part of the government’s efforts to meet an annual quota of about 400,000 deportations, has had devastating results. Having a parent ripped away permanently, without warning, is one of the most devastating and traumatic experiences in human development.”