Family Separation: The New Normal

Published On: Donate

This week the Wasilewski family received good news: They will be reunited after one of the highest profile deportation battles in the country.

You can read the comprehensive New York Times article here, or watch a trailer for the documentary on the family here.

The story once again highlights what is at the core of the immigration issue: family. The Wasilewskis had been living in Chicago for over 18 years. They had an American son. And then in 2007 Janina was deported to Poland.

Because of a broken system of unjust laws, Janina’s several attempts to adjust her status and find a legal pathway towards citizenship backfired and triggered deportation.

When she applied for a waiver that would cancel her deportation due to the hardship it would cause her family, immigration authorities denied it. From the NYT:

The Wasilewskis’ son, Brian, was born in Illinois in 2001, an American by birthright. But under the 1996 law, the damage to an American child from a deportation — in this case Brian’s separation from his father — is not recognized as hardship.

Mrs. Wasilewski’s waiver requests were turned down twice. But the harrowing decline that Mr. Wasilewski experienced after his wife and son left finally convinced officials that the hardship standard had been met.

He had an ulcer, a heart attack and bouts of depression and started drinking heavily. To raise cash to support his wife and son in Poland, where Mrs. Wasilewski was never able to find a job, he gave up the family’s home by selling it at a loss.

Basically, tearing a family apart is par for the course. No big deal. Happens all the time.

Would you consider being separated from your family a normal “type of inconvenience”? What if you were Aaron?

Aaron, a 32-year-old from Fort Wayne, Ind., is taking care of his four-year-old daughter alone while his wife, April, is in Mexico to sort out her immigration status. Although she was not deported, April is not allowed back in the country unless Aaron can prove “extreme hardship” from having her away — and that does not include the hardship to their four-year-old daughter.

“She doesn’t understand why her mom is gone,” said Aaron, who asked his last name be omitted to prevent retribution. “Seeing other people with mothers makes her depressed.”

And yet our politicians often take to the podium to talk about Family Values. They speak of the respect we must have for the concept of family, how it is the bedrock of civilization. They parade their spouses and children at campaign stops and fundraisers.

But when it comes to tearing an immigrant family apart “emotional hardship caused by severing family and community ties is a common result of deportation and does not constitute extreme hardship.” The Board of Immigration Appeals rationalized this violation of human dignity by arguing that “uprooting of family and separation from friends does not necessarily amount to extreme hardship but rather represents the type of inconvenience and hardship experienced by the families of most aliens being deported.”

And so goes the (il)logical reasoning of our immigration system: Family separation is not extreme hardship because we do it all the time. Just remember that, when your life is torn and you find yourself cut off from those you love, there are enough “aliens” out there in the same situation to justify the normality of your plight.

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