Threatening Parents?: What DHS Policies Remind Us About Unaccompanied Youth

by Michele Statz and Lauren Heidbrink
(Originally posted on July 20: reposted here with permission from Youth Circulations)

Migrant youth in the U.S. encounter competing media and institutional discourses that cast them as delinquents, ideal victims, or economic actors (See Heidbrink 2014Statz 2016). Youth Circulations is largely devoted to the politics of these impossible representations.

What is often less considered is how the parents of young people are implicated in such narrations. In many ways, this is a more subtle though surely consequential process, with family members pathologized as neglectful, violent, poor, or otherwise deficient for presumably “sending” or being complicit in youths’ migration journeys. As our work reveals, these discourses are prevalent in legal accounts, popular portrayals, and migration studies scholarship. By implicitly dismissing the ongoing transnational connectedness of “unaccompanied” youth, they contort and fracture valued intimate relationships over time.

While notably not new and perhaps not surprising, we now see the demonization of young migrants’ parents as overt policy and practice in the U.S.

This past February, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary John Kelly signed a memo promising to penalize anyone who paid smugglers to bring a child across the border. In it, “parents and family members” are explicitly identified as subject to prosecution if they have paid to have their children brought into the U.S.

Contrastingly characterized by immigration advocates as the “cruel and morally outrageous” rounding up of parents and by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials as a “humanitarian effort” to target human smugglers, arrests began in earnest this month. As The New York Times reported, parents or relatives who have taken in unauthorized children may face criminal smuggling-related charges and prison time; others will be placed in deportation along with children.

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