Disappearing Parents: Immigration Enforcement and the Child Welfare System

82 Pages Posted: 6 Apr 2011 Last revised: 5 Aug 2011

See all articles by Nina Rabin

Nina Rabin

University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) - School of Law

Date Written: July 15, 2011


This article presents original empirical research that documents systemic failures of the federal immigration enforcement and state child welfare systems when immigrant parents in detention and deportation proceedings have children in state custody. The intertwined but uncoordinated workings of the federal and state systems result in severe family disruptions and raise concerns regarding parental rights of constitutional magnitude. I document this phenomenon in two ways. First, I present an "anatomy of a deportation," providing a case study of an actual parent whose detention and eventual deportation has separated her from her four young children for over two years and threatens her with the permanent termination of her parental rights. Next, I present the results of empirical research I conducted of child welfare personnel to demonstrate that the case study is not an isolated occurrence. On the contrary, my analysis of the results of over 50 surveys and 20 interviews with attorneys, caseworkers, and judges in the juvenile court system in one Arizona county makes clear the concerns identified in the case study occur with alarming frequency. The analysis section of the paper provides a discussion of the constitutional and structural concerns raised by the case study and data presented. Finally, the article concludes with reforms that could be adopted by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, child protective services agencies, and Congress to address the systemic failures described.

Keywords: immigration, child welfare, parental rights, detention, deportation

Suggested Citation

Rabin, Nina, Disappearing Parents: Immigration Enforcement and the Child Welfare System (July 15, 2011). Connecticut Law Review, Vol. 44, No. 1, 2011, Arizona Legal Studies Discussion Paper No. 11-26, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1794263

Nina Rabin (Contact Author)

University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) - School of Law ( email )

385 Charles E. Young Dr. East
Room 1242
Los Angeles, CA 90095-1476
United States

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