175 Advocacy Groups Endorse Bill Protecting Foster Kids from Deportation
Washington – As Congress debates immigration reform, 175 state and national organizations led by the First Focus Campaign for Children today endorsed the Foster Children Opportunity Act (H.R. 2036). The bill, introduced today by Congressman Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas-16), increases the likelihood that immigrant children removed from their parents’ custody because of concerns about abuse or neglect will be protected by immigration law benefits already in place.
“The Foster Children Opportunity Act ensures that kids who came into the foster care system due to abuse or neglect don’t have to live in fear of deportation as adults,” said First Focus Campaign for Children President Bruce Lesley.
In 2008, Congress created a special nonimmigrant status in federal immigration law. This Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS) allows children brought to the United States, then placed in foster care by state governments to protect them from abuse or neglect, to remain lawfully in the U.S. Children granted SIJS are eligible to apply for U.S. citizenship after five years. Thousands of undocumented immigrant children are living in foster care, nationwide.
SIJS is not well known to child welfare agency officials or to judges and other court officers. As a result, many eligible children never get SIJS protections. If they do not obtain SIJS or other immigration relief options before age 18 (or, in some cases, 21), these children must either surrender for deportation to a country they barely remember or remain unlawfully in the U.S. Those who remain cannot get jobs or a college education and are often forced underground because they can’t get driver’s licenses or other identity documents.
“Immigration law already promises kids victimized by abuse or neglect a chance at a productive life, but for too many, it’s an empty promise,” said Lesley.
“Foster children are some of the most vulnerable members of our society. There are thousands of abused and neglected undocumented children in the child welfare system at any given time and many of these children will slip through the cracks without obtaining the legal status to which they are entitled,” said Congressman O’Rourke. “This legislation will offer relief to undocumented immigrant foster youth who have no family members in the U.S. and cannot safely be return to their country of origin.”
Congressman O’Rourke’s Foster Children Opportunity Act makes the existing immigration law work better for child abuse or neglect victims, by creating complementary protections. It authorizes federal agencies to inform state child welfare agencies and court officials about SIJS, and it requires child welfare agencies to screen immigrant children in foster care for SIJS eligibility. It clarifies that the federal government will reimburse state and local governments for costs they incurred providing care for kids who qualify for SIJS. And it ensures that SIJS-eligible children can qualify for federal health, nutrition, and other benefits without the five-year waiting period imposed on other immigrants.
The First Focus Campaign for Children led more than 175 state and national organizations in commending Congressman O’Rourke for introducing this important legislation. The text of their endorsement letter and the complete list of signatories are attached below.
“We thank Congressman O’Rourke and his colleagues for working together to give immigrant kids living in foster care a fighting chance at leading healthy and productive adult lives,” said Lesley.
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The First Focus Campaign for Children is a 501(c)(4) nonprofit organization affiliated with First Focus, a bipartisan children’s advocacy organization. The Campaign for Children advocates directly for legislative change in Congress to ensure children and families are a priority in federal policy and budget decisions. For more information, visit www.ffcampaignforchildren.org.