That investigation found that when mothers and fathers are detained and their children are in foster care, parents can do little to advocate for their families. In reviewing hundreds of individual cases, we found no parent who had been transported from detention to appear at the juvenile court hearings that determined their family’s future. Many could not even access their hearings by phone. We further learned that, once parents are deported, child welfare departments and juvenile courts often move to terminate parental rights, which clears a child for adoption.

Ricardo, a father from Napa, Calif., who our researchers met inside an Arizona detention center in February, has been detained for almost a year while he awaits deportation. His 1- and 2-year-old babies are living in foster care with strangers.

Ricardo’s children were removed from his custody because a babysitter left them alone for less than an hour and a neighbor called the police. Ricardo, whose name has been changed, and his wife, a U.S. citizen, were arrested and convicted on misdemeanor child endangerment charges. But because he is an undocumented immigrant, rather than being released and quickly moving to regain custody of his children, his information was run through a federal database and ICE moved him to detention. His wife suffers from seizures and the county child welfare department refused to place their babies with her unless Ricardo was present to parent as well.

But Ricardo was not present because ICE had detained him and, despite the child welfare system’s mandate toward family reunification, his children have now been in foster care for close to a year. Ricardo has been fully excluded from family court proceedings because he is detained. His parental rights will soon be terminated, according to an immigration advocate familiar with the case.

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