LatinaLista — By now, even the most casual observer of the news knows about DREAM Act students, or at least has heard the term, in reference to those students who are undocumented and have grown up in this country.
However, there is a small percentage of the undocumented youth population that nobody really knows about. It’s the children who find themselves victims of sexual and physical abuse and/or neglect and end up in state care.
This week, the Texas-based Center for Public Policy Priorities released the report Undocumented and Abused: A Texas Case Study of Children in the Child Protective Services System. Though their research focused on the Lone Star State, they felt the findings could likely exist elsewhere wherever undocumented children are in state care.
What these researchers found was disturbing.
Undocumented children in Texas state care are more likely to be:
Hispanic, female and from a mixed status family (meaning there are immediate family members that are citizens, along with, being undocumented).
Undocumented children are more than five times as likely to come into care for sexual abuse and are less likely to come into care for physical abuse or neglect.
According to the researchers, the sexual abuse suffered by these children is more likely to be committed by “siblings, step-parents and others as compared to parents and relatives.”
The report also notes that undocumented children designated to be under state care are more likely to live in foster homes rather than with relatives. The explanation given is because these children either don’t have any relatives in the United States or relatives are afraid to come forward and claim the children for fear of deportation.
An interesting observation is that undocumented children have over a 50 percent reunification with their parents/guardians. While that statistic appears to be good news, it conjures analysis that should make people stop and ask why this is. The researchers have their own theories:
Because undocumented children are older at the time they come into care, it may be that returning them home is less of a risk.
It could be that cases of sexual abuse are more easily resolved than cases of neglect. In sexual abuse cases, the mother is rarely the perpetrator. So once the perpetrator is removed and DFPS is assured the mother can protect the child from future abuse, the child can be returned. In contrast, neglect cases often involve chronic problems such as poverty or mental illness which are not easily remedied.
Or, and this is a worrisome hypothesis, it may be that the system returns undocumented children home at a greater rate simply because it has no other alternatives. Undocumented children are less likely to be adopted and more likely to age out or have some other type of non-permanent exit such as running away. For children who do not return home, those who are undocumented are three times less likely to be adopted, two times more likely to age out, and are five times more likely to have an “other,” non-permanent exit.
No matter from which angle this issue is viewed, undocumented children who find themselves victims of gross neglect or sexually deviant behavior need a judicial system that advocates better for their rights, their safety and their future — regardless of their citizenship status.