NEW YORK (WOMENSENEWS)–Brooklyn-native Kathy McArdle had a few special things going for her when her partner of 10 years was deported.
She was a U.S. citizen, authorized to legally work and receive federal assistance. She did not have to fear detention, deportation and the risk of her young son entering foster care when his father, Calvin James, was deported to Jamaica in late 2005.
But McArdle, at the time, was not employed because of health issues. She still struggled to care for herself and their then 6-year-old son. They wound up living with different friends for nearly two years before entering the shelters system in 2008.
They remained there for a year-and-a-half while McArdle sought full-time work as a secretary. All the while, she sent money to Jamaica to support James, who had been living in the United States legally on a green card, but ran into trouble stemming from a mid-1990s criminal conviction for selling marijuana.
She says they are still in a relationship, but has no intention of relocating her family to Jamaica to be with him anytime soon.
"We still consider ourselves a family and we are working towards being together as a couple one day," McArdle said. "We want to be together and we will just wait until that can happen." More women than ever are in this kind of predicament in the United States. But for most, the circumstances are worse. The United States deported a record-breaking 397,000 people from October 2010 through the end of September 2011, according to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement figures.
A growing proportion of these deportees, about 46,000 in the first six months of 2011, were parents of U.S.-citizen children, the New York-based think-tank the Applied Research Center reported in early November.
The immigration authority doesn’t provide a gender breakdown–male versus female–of detainees and deportees and the Applied Research Center wasn’t able to obtain these figures in its Freedom of Information Act request.
Parental Rights Threatened
"It’s really hard to tell since those numbers are not available, but when we are talking about families in the report we are looking oftentimes at women being disproportionally affected by threats to their parental rights and to the prospects of their families being permanently shattered," said Seth Wessler, senior researcher for the center’s Nov. 2 report, "Shattered Families."
That report found at least 5,100 children whose parents have been either detained or deported are currently living under foster care. In the next five years, at least 15,000 more children will be at risk for entering the foster system under a similar set of circumstances, the report says.
Michelle Brane, director of the detention and asylum program at the Washington-based Women’s Refugee Commission, said in a recent phone interview that there is about a 50-50 split between women and men in terms of immigrants who are living in the United States. However, she estimates about 90 percent of the undocumented people the United States detains each year are men.
Children will be covered by federal programs, said Brane, but incidents of shelters and child protective services reporting undocumented parents to immigration officials have been recorded.
Amy Gottlieb is program director of the American Friends Service Committee Immigrant Rights Program, based in Newark, N.J. She hasn’t noticed any particular gender aspect to those who are detained or deported in her work with immigrant families.
Suddenly single fathers struggle just as much as newly single mothers when one partner is detained or deported and two paychecks are reduced to one, or one paycheck the family was once dependent on dissolves, she added.
‘It Gets Worse and Worse’
One single mother from the Ivory Coast said that in her Newark community she mostly sees other undocumented mothers struggling to support their families, following their partners’ deportation.
"It’s all the same for them," said the 44-year-old woman in an interview held in American Friends Service Committee’s Newark office. She asked to be identified as Jeanne Twam. "You are always hoping for the best, that one day it will get better and better, but it gets worse and worse."
Twam has been supporting her school-aged children, mother and husband since 2008, when her husband was deported, following his denial of political asylum. Immigration agents came for him at their home early in the morning, she said, when her children were sleeping and she was at nursing school.
Her worries about the family’s tight finances and her lack of documentation discouraged Twam from pursuing a legal case on behalf of her husband. He now lives in their native West African country and still relies heavily on her financial support. But Twam lost her job as a nurse’s aid this past spring and says keeping up with her responsibilities is becoming increasingly difficult.
"Right now I lost my job and when you don’t have the right papers there is no help," said Twam. "You go to the government and the social workers and they won’t tell you straight forward, but you can feel that because of these lack of papers this help is not coming."
Options for homeless families with undocumented members are becoming more limited, said Linda Flores-Tober, executive director of the Elizabeth Coalition to House the Homeless in Elizabeth, N.J., which provides about 2,5000 people annually with emergency shelter and rental assistance, in addition to educational and recreational support for homeless young people.
More than two-thirds of the immigrant families it supports with housing aid are led by single women, said Flores-Tober. Their partners or husbands are often detained in the nearby Elizabeth Detention Center, or Essex County Correctional Facility, which is proposing an expansion in part to house more detainees.
Inmates’ relatives — most of them women — in early September staged a demonstration outside the Essex jail, calling the area environmentally unfit. Fumes from a nearby water processing plant, the relatives said, made living conditions unsanitary and potentially unsafe.
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Amy Lieberman is a correspondent at the United Nations headquarters and a freelance writer in New York City.
For more information:
"Shattered Families," Applied Research Center :
Immigrant Rights Program, American Friends Service Committee: