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What Happens to Children Who are U.S. Citizens When Their Parents are Deported?

We recently wrote about undocumented immigrants with U.S. born children making arrangements for others to care for their children in case the parents are deported. Many parents take steps to legally give power of attorney over their children to U.S. citizens or other immigrants who are in the country legally. Unfortunately, this is not a choice that is available to all parents, either because they have no one to turn to who is willing to care for their children, or because they are deported before they can make plans.

When undocumented parents of underaged children are deported without notice, the most likely outcome is that the children end up in foster care. The parents often cannot challenge the placement of the children in foster care because the parents are in detention or already deported. When the parents are deported, there is no requirement for their children to be deported along with them because the children are U.S. citizens. The children are taken into the state’s foster care system, and in some cases, eventually put up for adoption after parental rights are terminated.

The termination of parental rights does not have to be voluntary, and in some cases, if the court finds that a parent has abandoned the children, even when the parent is absent against his or her own will, parental rights can be terminated. The criteria for what makes someone an unfit parent is not always clear, and it is easy for a parent’s illegal immigration status to be used as an excuse to terminate parental rights.

Deported parents can fight for their children from their home countries after deportation, but that is often a difficult situation. They also may not be able to see their children and may be restricted in other forms of communication.

In some rare situations, it is possible for parents who are primary caregivers to their children to avoid being deported on humanitarian grounds. However, if the children have another parent in the U.S. who is not subject to deportation, the undocumented parent is likely to be deported even if he or she is the primary caregiver.

Fortunately, in most states, a sibling can take on the role of guardian to younger siblings if his or her parents are deported. This can be the best way to ensure that the children stay together and they can be eventually reunited with their parents.

Undocumented immigrants who are married to U.S. citizens or who have children who are over the age of 21 years old who are U.S. citizens should explore the legal options available to them to change their status. The process may often be expensive and may require the undocumented immigrant to return to his or her home country for a period of time.

In the past, not every undocumented immigrant who had an avenue to apply for legal status did so because of the expense and the lengthy process. However, under changing immigration policies, it is best for undocumented immigrants to take advantage of any legal option that can lead to legal status, instead of waiting for immigration officials to come knocking.

Contact us for Legal Assistance

If you are an undocumented immigrant who may be eligible for legal permanent residence or naturalization through a family member sponsoring your application, contact us for more information about eligibility and the application process. Contact our multi-lingual staff to speak to an experienced immigration attorney from Strassburg, Gilmore & Wei, LLP, in Pasadena, California.


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