Legislation Protects Children and Families Impacted by Immigration Enforcement

WASHINGTON, DC – Yesterday, Senator Al Franken (D-MN) and Representative Lynn Woolsey (D-CA) re-introduced the Humane Enforcement and Legal Protections (HELP) for Separated Children Act. The legislation would implement critically needed reforms to protect children and families impacted by immigration enforcement. The First Focus Campaign for Children, a bipartisan children’s advocacy organization, voiced its strong support for the legislation, which includes key provisions that will safeguard child well-being and family unity.

“The ramifications of our broken immigration policies are evident every day, and far too often it is our children who suffer the most. Thousands of innocent children are needlessly separated from their parents due to their parent’s detention or deportation, and some are unnecessarily ending up in the child welfare system,” said Bruce Lesley, president of the First Focus Campaign for Children. “Separation from a parent is detrimental to the life-long physical, social, and mental health of any child. With the HELP Separated Children Act, Senator Franken and Representative Woolsey are standing up for children and families by sending a clear message that our immigration enforcement policies must take into account the best interest of children and respect the fundamental principle of family unity. We look forward to working with Congress to pass this important legislation which will ultimately help protect all children and keep families together.”

“We can’t leave young children to fend for themselves – sometimes for long periods of time – if their parents are caught up and detained by our immigration officials,” said Senator Franken. “This legislation would ensure that we don’t see any more cases like the second-grader in Worthington who had to take care of his two-year-old brother for a week after his parents were detained by immigration authorities.”

While the two versions of the bill differ slightly, both would ensure that parents and guardians apprehended by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) or its surrogates are identified in a timely manner and provided the opportunity to make care arrangements for their minor children upon apprehension. The Act would prevent prolonged parent-child separation or the unnecessary termination of parental rights by ensuring that parents and guardians are able to regularly communicate with their children, child welfare staff, and family courts following any enforcement activities. Ultimately, the legislation would minimize the hardship on children and reduce the likelihood that children will be placed unnecessarily into the foster care system.

Specific provisions of the HELP Separated Children Act include:
• Screening to identify parents and guardians by child welfare staff and NGOs.
• Timely notification of local authorities, schools, child welfare agencies, and NGOs regarding enforcement actions.
• Access to free, confidential phone calls for parents and guardians to make care arrangements for their children and throughout the immigration process.
• Collaboration between ICE and child welfare agencies to ensure that parents have regular contact with their children and are able to meaningfully participate in family court proceedings, including the ability to make arrangements to bring children with them to their country of origin if they so choose.
• Consideration of the best interest of children in all decisions regarding the detention, release, and transfer of a parent or guardian.
• An annual report documenting the impact of immigration enforcement policies on U.S. citizen children.

The HELP Separated Children Act has the support of Senators Richard Durbin (D-IL), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), as well as over 170 national, state, and local organizations.

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Child Abuse & Neglect Children of Immigrants Press Release

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