Thousands are being deported without a chance to appear before an immigration judge.
Editor's Note: March-April 2008
They were the words of a family therapist helping me work through my own personal struggles with a father with whom I had little connection; I didn't meet him until I was 20 years old. The therapist helped me realize that the anger and resentment I held was a barrier for me in all of my other personal relationships. And that I needed to realize that, no matter what had happened in the past, I needed a relationship with my father.
What resulted was a long overdue conversation with him. I learned that his absence had nothing to do with me. I learned that he was deeply sorry for missing the first 20 years of my life, and that he was proud of the man I had become. The impact of those words was immeasurable.
Children with incarcerated parents or children who've had a parent in prison experience many of the same turbulent feelings of abandonment, self-doubt and insecurity. And despite the crimes their parents have committed, the reality is still the same–"they need a connection to their parents.
In this issue of The Chicago Reporter, reporter Fernando Díaz explores the difficulties many families experience when trying to maintain relationships between children and their incarcerated parents. A big part of the problem is the lack of resources and services available to help poor families in the Chicago area make those long journeys to downstate prisons.
Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley expressed sympathy in 2005 for the families of former City Hall operative Robert Sorich and three others who faced prison time for rigging city hiring. But there seems to be a lack of understanding about the importance of maintaining familial bonds when it comes to the general prison population–"who are often poor or people of color.
When the Community Renewal Society first launched its Children of the Incarcerated Campaign last year, some were skeptical. "We should try to keep children as far away from these people as we can," one radio host told me when I appeared as a guest on his show. But we have to resist the urge to belittle the child-parent relationship in families of individuals who've been convicted of a crime. Incarcerated parents are still parents, and the fractured relationships resulting from their actions will have a profound effect on their children well into adulthood.
It is wrong, as I found out for myself, to ignore that fact.
Reporter Fernando Díaz has been selected for a 2008 Institute for Justice and Journalism fellowship. Díaz opens his fellowship with a one-week conference in Southern Arizona, near Tucson along the U.S.-Mexico border. As a part of his fellowship, Díaz will investigate the growing number of immigrants gaining citizenship through military service. In addition, he will explore whether the federal government is living up to the promises of recent and past legislation that provide for accelerated naturalization as a benefit of military service.
Fernando is the third staffer from The Chicago Reporter to earn an Institute for Justice and Journalism fellowship in the past three years. Reporter Jeff Kelly Lowenstein completed his fellowship in 2007. Senior editor Kimbriell Kelly finished her fellowship in 2006.
The Reporter has hired Kelly Virella as a staff reporter. Most recently a freelance writer and editor, Virella was a member of Northwestern University's Academy for Alternative Journalism in 2007. Virella's work has appeared in the Chicago Reader, the St. Petersburg Times, Urban Ecology and AlterNet. She also authored a chapter in the book "Prison Nation: The Warehousing of America's Poor."