When parents are deported, what happens to children?

Maria Torres Cornejo turns on the light in a separate room of her house, where she works illegally, selling chips and candy in the Rio Grande Valley. (KXAN Photo)
Maria Torres Cornejo turns on the light in a separate room of her house, where she works illegally, selling chips and candy in the Rio Grande Valley. (KXAN Photo)

AUSTIN and McALLEN, Texas (KXAN) — In the wake of President Trump’s expedited and expanded immigration policy, more people will likely be deported. Immigration attorneys tell us the biggest concern is what will happen to their children.

The most common impact would be changing a united family to a single-parent family.

Maria Torres Cornejo moved to Mercedes, Texas, illegally with her son who has autism, Arturo. She applied to become documented in 2008 so her son could get better medical care. While she waits for the federal government to approve her stay, she works out of her house, selling chips and candy. She’s afraid of being quickly detained and deported, putting her son’s future in the air.

She tells KXAN there are many families like her that are here for the well being of her children, saying it’s too dangerous in Mexico.

“If the officer doesn’t stop and allow them a phone call to their attorney, they could very well be in Mexico in a few hours,” said Immigration attorney Griselda Ponce. She specializes in deportation defense.

Ponce says if one of her clients is deported, she tries to connect the children to friends and family that are citizens, but she did have a case where the father was deported, the mother had a criminal history, so the child ended up in the care of the state.

“In the state of Texas, a child is a child regardless of what their parent’s status is. The focus will always be on the best interest of the child, regardless of where their parents are from and regardless of where the child is from,” said Ponce.

That, she says, is extremely rare, but people like Cornejo are at least making plans for the impact of new immigration policies.

Only a small portion of the 29,000 children in Child Protective Services are undocumented or from other counties, most of them come into the system after abuse or neglect.

Here’s a closer look at the numbers. In 2015, 308 children who are not US citizens were taken into the state’s care. That same year 112 left the system. The majority of children were reunited with their parents, 67 of them. Less than a third — 32 children — were placed with a relative.

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