Panel Paper: Child Protection amidst Tougher Immigration Enforcement: Evidence from Foster Care Entries in the United States

Saturday, November 10, 2018
Johnson - Mezz Level (Marriott Wardman Park)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Catalina Amuedo-Dorantes, San Diego State University and Esther Arenas-Arroyo, University of Oxford

The past decades have witnessed an unprecedented increase in immigration enforcement in the United States. Tougher enforcement has been responsible for 1.8 million deportations between 2009 and 2013 alone, breaking up families and leading to the placement of children in foster care when their parents were apprehended, deported and unable to care for them.

In this study, we combine state-level data on foster care placements with detailed information on the intensification of immigration enforcement to learn how the escalation of immigration enforcement taking place at the local and state levels since the early 2000s might have contributed to the growing number of Hispanic youth in foster care. Since approximately 80 percent of undocumented immigrants are Hispanic (Passel and Cohn, 2009), the focus on this group is crucial, especially given the unique increase in Hispanic foster care placements in areas with intensified immigration enforcement, as we shall show. We exploit the temporal and geographic variation in interior immigration enforcement policies and find that the average increase in interior immigration enforcement during the 2001 through 2015 period contributed to raising the share of Hispanic youth entering foster care anywhere between 15 and 21 percent. The effect, which perseveres as we exclude the Great Recession years from our sample period, seems to be capturing the impact of intensified interior immigration enforcement. Not only does it seem to originate from states without a Trust Act as one would expect, but it also appears driven by the adoption of police-based immigration enforcement initiatives responsible for the growing number of deportations over that period, as was the case with the Secure Communities program.

To our knowledge, this is the first study examining how immigration enforcement might have contributed to foster care admissions. Aside from adding to a literature exploring the reasons behind recent increases in foster caseloads (e.g. Swann and Sylvester, 2006; Cunningham and Finlay, 2013), this analysis enhances our understanding of the consequences of immigration policy on undocumented immigrants and their often mixed-status families (e.g. Amuedo- Dorantes et al., 2016; Amuedo-Dorantes and Arenas-Arroyo, 2017; Amuedo-Dorantes and Lopez, 2017; Watson, 2014). Given the promised increase in deportations by President Donald Trump and the swift implementation of executive orders that revive police-based immigration enforcement, gaining an understanding of how the latter is likely affecting American children is imperative.