Nina Rabin's research was funded by the UA's Southwest Institute for Research on Women and the James E. Rogers College of Law and also the Vital Projects Fund. Rabin dedicated her report to a detained immigrant parent whose four children were placed in foster care after she was deported.
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One of the lesser-told stories about immigration is what happens to children – who often are U.S. citizens – whose parents are detained and deported.
Nina Rabin, director of border research for the University of Arizona Southwest Institute for Research on Women, set out to investigate, learning that the lack of coordination between certain federal and state agencies adds to the problems immigrant families face.
"It's very important to realize that this is happening and how it is impacting families," said Rabin, who also directs the Bacon Immigration Law and Policy Program at the UA's James E. Rogers College of Law.
For her investigation, Rabin obtained surveys and interviews from more than 50 personnel in the child welfare system, reporting her findings in a new report, "Disappearing Parents: A Report on Immigration Enforcement and the Child Welfare System."
A version of the report will be released May 5 during a noon-1 p.m. event in Room 168 of the law school, 1201 E. Speedway Blvd. The event is free and open to the public. The full-length article based on Rabin's investigation is scheduled to be published in a Connecticut Law Review issue during the fall.
During the event, Rabin will speak alongside members of the juvenile court bench and Mexican consulate and also a UA law student who is a representative of an immigrant parent in detention struggling to retain custody of her U.S. citizen children.
In 2008, Rabin released "Unseen Prisoners: A Report on Women in Immigration Detention Facilities in Arizona," a report that documented the poor conditions women face in Arizona's immigration detention centers. The report was part of the motivation for "Disappearing Parents."
Another reason why Rabin initiated the investigation is that in speaking with detainees, judges, attorneys and child welfare system case workers, she found that that no true protocol existed for working with individuals in detention centers who have children in state custody.
"What really struck me was that women whose children were in state custody while they were detained were dealing with these custody disputes; dealing with frustration about how their children were doing, and wanting to participate in the decisions about their children but being unable to do so," Rabin said.
But this problem is not Arizona-specific.
"This is something happening and cases are popping up around the country," Rabin said. "It really is a systemic problem worth a closer look."
The study's findings indicate a range of implications for federal and state agencies and for the child welfare system.
In particular, Rabin said agencies must develop stronger mechanisms for identifying when detained individuals have children and also increase training and the use of alternatives to detention.
"Think about mothers who are dealing with a situation that, for many of us, would be impossible to fathom: Permanent separation from your children with very little ability in having a say in what is happening to your children," Rabin said.
"This information is aimed at informing agencies and the general public about the problem," she said, "because I think that it really is going to require systemic changes in the federal and state systems."