Immigration Enforcement Policy Change a Win for Kids

Washington — The First Focus Campaign for Children, a bipartisan children’s advocacy organization, reacted to Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) release of a set of policy reforms designed to reduce the harm to children and families resulting from immigration enforcement actions against parents. These reforms, collectively referred to as the “Parental Interest Directive,” represent a major advance for children and ensure that immigration enforcement measures are implemented in a responsible and humane manner. Key provisions of the Parental Interest Directive include:

  • Establish points of contact on parental interests in each ICE field office;
  • Create processes to regularly identify and review cases involving parents;
  • Consider the best interest of children in decisions regarding a parent’s detention placement;
  • Ensure parents are able to participate in family court proceedings, including through alternative means such as videoconference when possible;
  • Enable parents to regularly visit with their children while they are in detention;
  • Ensure that parents being removed from the United States can coordinate their repatriation with their child or arrange for the child’s care; and
  • Provide training for immigration and detention facility personnel on best practices for protecting children and family unity.

These reforms align with current ICE enforcement priorities, but as administrative actions, they are subject to practical limitations. The Parental Interest Directive might be unilaterally reversed in the future by a different presidential administration, without hearing or the opportunity for public input.

Compared to comprehensive immigration reform legislation passed earlier this year by the U.S. Senate, the Parental Interest Directive encompasses a limited range of protections important for family unity. Specifically, the Senate legislation also:

  • Creates an inclusive roadmap to citizenship for the majority of undocumented immigrants, including DREAMers and their parents, removing the threat of family separation due to detention and deportation;
  • Provides immigration judges discretion to consider potential hardship to a U.S. citizen or lawfully permanent resident child when making removal or admissibility decisions, eliminating a double-standard in current law that disregards harm to children;
  • Establishes policies to improve the ability of children placed in state child welfare systems to reunite with parents who have been detained or deported; and
  • Creates a mechanism for DREAM Act-eligible youth and parents of U.S. citizen and lawfully permanent resident children who left the U.S. or were deported to return to the U.S. and earn citizenship, if they meet certain Homeland Security waiver criteria.

The ICE reforms respond to a growing crisis for children, as immigration enforcement actions have intensified in recent years. The nonpartisan Human Impact Partners estimated earlier this year that more than 150,000 U.S. citizen children were affected by a parent’s detention or deportation in 2012, and the Applied Research Center has estimated that 5,100 children with a detained or deported parent are currently living in state foster care systems.

In response to the Parental Interest Directive announcement, the First Focus Campaign for Children released the following statement by president Bruce Lesley:

“The Parental Interest Directive is a major victory for children, reducing the likelihood that immigration enforcement will tear families apart and reducing the harm to kids when separation is unavoidable. But only Congress can give these critical reforms the force and permanence of law and deliver the other protections children need.”

Children of Immigrants Press Release

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