By Maria Peña
WASHINGTON – The recent deportation to Guatemala of a 4-year-old U.S. citizen has set off a media war between immigration authorities and the child’s parents, and poses numerous questions about the future of children born in the United States to undocumented immigrants.
Emily Samantha Ruiz was deported de facto together with her grandfather on March 11, and her case has sparked a barrage of criticism against the government of President Barack Obama.
Up to now, few details are known about the child’s case – reported last Wednesday by Univision – because the Obama administration, which touts its transparency, has shed no light on the deportation of the little girl and her grandfather.
Consulted by Efe on Tuesday, U.S. Customs and Border Protection defended its actions in the case.
“CBP strives to reunite U.S. citizen children with their parents. If the parents choose not to take custody of their children, CBP works with other agencies to ensure the children’s safety and well-being, up to and including releasing them into the custody of other relatives,” spokesman Lloyd Easterling said.
“In this case, the parents were offered the chance to pick up the child, but elected to have her return to Guatemala with her grandfather,” he said.
Both Emily’s father, Leonel Ruiz, and David Sperling, the New York attorney who decided to handle the case pro bono, have made statements on Univision that make CBP look bad.
The incident began when the girl and her grandfather returned from vacation in Guatemala on a New York-bound flight that made a stopover at Dulles International Airport in Virginia.
Apparently the grandfather had an immigration infraction on his record dating to the 1990s, though immigration authorities have not specified why he was deported.
According to Sperling’s office, CBP agents contacted the girl’s dad and offered him two choices: Emily could either go to a detention center for minors in Virginia, or return with her grandpa to Guatemala.
The parents, who are undocumented, preferred the girl to go back to Guatemala with her grandfather rather than put some unknown place far from home.
The Ruiz case thus became one more story of families being broken up as a direct result of current United States immigration policy.
While reuniting the youngster with her parents would have been the ideal solution, on paper, the law does allow CBP to deport children in similar circumstances.
Children of undocumented immigrants make up 7 percent of all U.S. residents under 18, according to a 2010 study by the Pew Hispanic Center based on Census data.
Close to 79 percent of the children of the undocumented were born in the United States, and therefore have the same rights as all other U.S. citizens.
The same Pew study found that close to 85 percent of undocumented parents in this country are of Hispanic origin.
“It’s understandable that the parents didn’t want to come near (to where their daughter was) if they’re here without documents, and I’m not surprised that CBP didn’t want to hand over the girl if she had no family member with legal status...what typically happens is that if the parents are undocumented, they are deported together with their children, even though the latter are U.S. citizens,” Don Kerwin, a vice president of the nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute, told Efe.
Emily’s case leaves a lot of questions to be answered by CBP and other federal authorities with regard to the rights of the little girl, and the right of her parents to get their daughter back, without regard to their legal status in this country.
What is at stake is not only CBP’s image but Emily’s future and that of thousands of children who are citizens and in the same straits. EFE