Bipartisan Immigration Amendment Would Keep Families Together
Washington – The First Focus Campaign for Children and the Women's Refugee Commission today applauded U.S. Senators Al Franken (D-Minn.) and Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) for filing an amendment to strengthen protections for children in the Senate “Gang of 8” comprehensive immigration reform bill. The amendment is also cosponsored by Democratic Senators Chris Coons (Del.), Dianne Feinstein (Calif.), and Mazie Hirono (Hawaii), and by Republican Senator John Cornyn (Texas). The Franken-Grassley amendment would keep families together whenever possible and help mitigate harm to children, including preventing children from entering foster care when immigration enforcement results in the detention or removal of their parents.
“Immigration enforcement tears children and parents apart,” said Campaign for Children President Bruce Lesley. “But the bipartisan Franken-Grassley amendment gives kids a better chance to stay with family and other trusted adults.”
“Over the past several years, the Women’s Refugee Commission has interviewed countless parents in immigration detention who had no idea where their children were, simply because they were apprehended without having a chance to arrange for their children’s care,” said Emily Butera, with the Migrant Rights and Justice Program of the Women’s Refugee Commission. “This amendment represents a humane, sensible solution.”
“Our broken immigration system has for far too long lacked basic humanitarian protections for children in enforcement actions,” said Sen. Franken. “Too often, the children – most of them citizens and legal residents – are overlooked or placed in the child welfare system because of poor policy. That's why I've introduced the bipartisan HELP Separated Children amendment with Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa).”
The base bill (S. 744) provides several important improvements over current law for children placed in foster care following a parent’s detention or removal. But it does not address current immigration enforcement policies that prevent parents from making decisions regarding their child’s care and increase the likelihood that children in such situations will be unnecessarily placed in foster care during a parent’s immigration proceedings.
The amendment’s Humane Enforcement and Legal Protections for Separated Children Act (“HELP” Separated Children Act) provisions would:
- Allow parents to make calls to arrange for the care of their children;
- Ensure that children can call or visit their parents while they are detained;
- Allow parents to participate in state child welfare agency and family court proceedings affecting their children;
- Ensure that parents being removed from or voluntarily departing the United States can coordinate their repatriation with their children;
- Require immigration officials to consider the best interests of children in detention, release, and transfer decisions affecting their parents; and
- Provide training for immigration and detention facility personnel on best practices for protecting children.
The Pew Hispanic Center reported in 2011 that 5.5 million children, 4.5 million of whom are U.S. citizens, have at least one parent who is an undocumented immigrant and, therefore, are at risk of separation following an immigration enforcement action. More than 5,000 children were in state foster care systems because of immigration enforcement actions against a parent, according to a 2011 Applied Research Center analysis. That analysis projected that the number would jump to 15,000 within five years under the status quo.
The amendment enjoys diverse support. More than 60 child welfare, faith, and immigrant advocacy organizations have endorsed the bipartisan proposal.
“This important piece of legislation ensures that immigration enforcement does not get in the way of a parents’ right to make decisions about the care and well-being of their children,” said Butera.
“The Franken-Grassley amendment would let immigration officials focus on law enforcement, state child welfare agencies focus scarce resources where they’re most needed, and give kids a better chance at staying with their families,” 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 the priority in federal policy and budget decisions. For more information, visit www.ffcampaignforchildren.org.
The Women's Refugee Commission was established in 1989 to address the particular needs of refugee and displaced women and children. The Women's Refugee Commission is affiliated with and is legally part of the International Rescue Committee (IRC), a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization. It does not receive direct financial support from the IRC. For more information, visit www.womensrefugeecommission.org.