Magazine article Colorlines Magazine

When an Immigrant Mom Gets Arrested: More Women-And Their Children-Are Getting Trapped by the Intersection of Policies Governing Deportations, Prisons and Foster Care

Magazine article Colorlines Magazine

When an Immigrant Mom Gets Arrested: More Women-And Their Children-Are Getting Trapped by the Intersection of Policies Governing Deportations, Prisons and Foster Care

Article excerpt

BEHIND THE THICK GLASS THAT RUNS THE LENGTH of the Yuba County Jail's visitation corridor, Tatyana Mitrohina's eyes glisten, and then fill with tears as she recounts the last time she saw her son. "During the visit, he climbed into my arms and fell asleep with his head on my shoulder while I walked around with him," she remembers.


Two months after that visit, Mitrohina was sent to the Yuba County Jail in Marysville, California, hours away from her 2-year-old son, who is in foster care. She was convicted on charges that she had hit him. While she does not deny the charges, she does say she had expected to be released from jail and to get counseling and start to rebuild her life with her child. But with the increasing collaboration between local authorities and federal immigration officials, Mitrohina found that she would not get that second chance. The government had slated her to be deported to Russia, the country she left as a teenager.

"When I first got here, I would break down crying once a week, just thinking about everything that's happened," says Mitrohina, who is 30 years old.

Immigration and child welfare advocates say that Mitrohina's story--the loss of her child, her incarceration and detention, and her struggle to care for her child--represents a new and dangerous terrain at the intersection of three government systems--deportation, incarceration and foster care--that are tearing apart poor families and families of color.

While rates of detention and deportation have increased exponentially in recent years, what is happening to immigrant families is not a new story. It has been played out time and again in the lives of Black families who, in the past 20 years, have faced an increase in drug-related arrests and sentences that place Black parents in jail and their children in foster care. As immigrant families find themselves targeted by a combination of public policies, it is becoming clear that their experiences and those of Black families, women and children are troublingly similar.


In 1996, Bill Clinton signed the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRAIRA), increasing the ease with which immigrants--including green card holders--could be deported, especially as a result of criminal convictions. "Criminal aliens" (as they are labeled by the government, especially those classified as "aggravated felons") can now be summarily deported, even if they served jail time many years ago. In addition, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, better known as ICE, can place detainers on immigrants in jails and prisons, even those still awaiting a hearing or trial. Upon completion of their sentence, these people face removal proceedings. In the wake of 9/11, a growing number of local governments have also begun collaborating with ICE informally and formally through 287(g) programs that deputize local police to enforce federal immigration laws. Without some degree of local collaboration, Mitrohina would never have faced deportation.

According to the government, deportation is technically an administrative procedure, so it doesn't fall under the aegis of double jeopardy. Yet deportation effectively sentences people to exile. "You would be hard-pressed to find a detained immigrant in the United States who did not constantly feel that they were being punished a second or third time for the same mistakes, solely due to their immigration status, including lawful permanent residents like Tatyana," said Raha Jorjani, an attorney at the Immigrant Law Clinic at the University of California, Davis, who helped file an appeal on Mitrohina's behalf.

In the past 12 years, deportations have quadrupled to more than 200,000 annually. About 100,000 people choose voluntary deportation every year. Meanwhile, deportations based on criminal convictions have increased nearly threefold, reaching almost 90,000 a year. …

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