Immigration and ‘Shattered Families’

November 8, 2011

The mantra is now (almost) universal: Adoption, first and foremost, should serve the best interests of children and, whenever possible, those girls and boys should be raised in their families and communities of origin. Unfortunately – sometimes because of well-intentioned ignorance, sometimes because of selfishness or greed, sometimes because of ideological or religious or simply misguided beliefs – that’s not always what happens in real life. And the results are not only brutal for the individuals involved, but also chip away at the institution of adoption itself.

Every incident of a mother being coerced, or of a child being trafficked (or “returned”) or of an adoptive parent being scammed pierces the hearts and/or undermines the futures of those directly affected, and that’s bad enough. But it also fills the public’s vacuum of knowledge about adoption with a sense that these singular stories are more representative of a general reality than they really are. This is not in any way an apologia for any of the bad stuff; quite the opposite. It means that, as long as adoption exists, we have to work mightily to make it as ethical and humane as we possibly can, and I’m proud to lead an organization that is committed to achieving those goals.

All of which gets me to the bottom line of this short commentary. While there’s lots of disagreement in the child welfare and adoption worlds about the issues I raise above – that is, what constitutes best interests, how prevalent the abuses are, etc. – there are cases when we should all be able to unite and say: “This sure looks broken and we need to fix it.” A new report entitled “Shattered Families,” published by the Applied Research Center, looks like one of those cases. It documents how thousands of children are removed from the custody of detained or deported undocumented workers in this country, and are placed in foster care. Here’s a link:

Some number of these children presumably are adopted into new families, even though they have mothers and fathers who want to raise them and could do so. Unless something’s seriously wrong with the research itself (and no one seems to have raised concern about it), this should be cause for alarm bells going off and voices uniting to demand reforms. Even as politicians on all sides try to shape Immigration policy that makes sense for this country and the people who want to move here, they should ensure that children and their families – and adoption itself – don’t become victims during the debate.

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