The story of Felipe Montes is horrifying but not an isolated incident. Montes, who had lived in the United States for nine years before being deported, left behind his wife Marie and their three children. Their youngest had just been born a couple months earlier, and Marie had fallen ill. She survived on disability with Felipe gone. And, of course, the story only gets worse from there:
Less than two months after their baby was born, just two weeks after Felipe was loaded onto a plane and deported to Mexico, the Allegheny County child welfare department took the children from Marie and put them in foster care.
Allegheny County has already convinced a judge to end family reunification efforts with Marie Montes. She wants the children to be placed with their father. “If they can’t be with me, I want them to be with him,” she said. “Nobody is a better father than he is.”
But next week, on February 21, the county’s Department of Social Services plans to ask a judge to cease all efforts to reunify the family and put the children into adoption proceedings with foster families. Though Felipe Montes was his children’s primary caregiver before he was deported and has not been charged with neglect, the child welfare department nonetheless believes that his children, who have now been in foster care for over a year, are better off in the care of strangers than in Mexico with their father.
For Montes, this feels tantamount to kidnapping.
“I cannot find the words to tell you how important my kids are to me. I would do anything for them,” he told Colorlines.com, speaking on his cell phone in Mexico while on a break from his job at a farm. “In this world there are many injustices. At the very least, I would like them to send my kids to Mexico.”
The tragedy here underscores a larger tragedy with the US immigration system. US-born children who are deported with their undocumented parents are not counted by the government, not included in their tallies. When we hear that 400,000 undocumented immigrants were deported, how many of those took their US-born children with them? What are the true figures?
The tragedies stack up. When Felipe Montes was deported, his economic productivity was lost. That’s an immediate loss for the country and his community. A worker and a consumer simply disappeared from the local economy. Worse still, his wife could no longer support their children due to her illness and the loss of income. That obviously has a direct economic impact on that family (not to mention the emotional impact.)
Compounding the economic strain this created, now the the taxpayer is footing the bill for the childrens’ welfare, sucking even more money out of the economy and pumping it into the badly broken foster care system. It’s one thing if kids are taken from truly abusive homes and placed into foster care – that’s a state service born out of inevitability and mercy. But when it’s the result of an immoral immigration policy that is at once harmful to the broader economy and to the lives of very real, very innocent people it’s just unconscionable.
Colorlines has a full report on the growing number of children – numbering in the thousands – who face a similar fate. But countless more face deportation themselves. These are real people, torn by force from the only home or family they’ve ever known because of a rule that is at once economically backwards and utterly devoid of compassion.
We should be encouraging immigration – as much of it as possible – and the free movement of people across borders. The side effects of our immigration policy are so numerous: coyotes smuggling people in horrifying and often life-threatening conditions; sexual assault of women and girls who try to emigrate from their home countries; the destruction of families; economic hardship and unnecessary suffering. The list goes on and on and on.
Economic illiteracy and unbridled nationalism fuel our immigration policy. Real people suffer the consequences. Real people, despite their linguistic dissimilarities and darker skin, suffer because of abstract, old-fashioned ideas about borders. In the case of the Montes family, the youngest child – now one year old – lives with a different foster family than his brothers. Felipe has never met his youngest son, having been detained prior to the child’s birth.
As a parent, I cannot even begin to imagine this – to imagine first being detained during the birth of my child, and then to learn that they’d been taken away by the state and placed with strangers. The heartbreak is too much. The choices we ask people to make are too enormous. It should weigh heavy on our mind, those of us who face no such calamities.
It’s just inexplicable to me that people who tout their “family values” bona fides could support such a monstrous policy.