Roybal-Allard Bill Would Help Families Stay Together
Washington — Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA) introduced today the Help Separated Families Act, legislation to improve the likelihood that children taken into state custody following immigration enforcement actions against their parents can ultimately reunify with their parents. Similar language has been included in Senate immigration reform legislation (S. 744), so today’s introduction of House legislation sets the stage for a House debate over the impact of immigration enforcement policies on children and their parents.
“Families belong together, and every parent should have a say in what happens to their kids,” said First Focus Campaign for Children President Bruce Lesley. “For years, Rep. Roybal-Allard has championed legislation reflecting those basic family values.”
“We have met many parents who cannot find their children, cannot participate in child welfare proceedings, or cannot reunify with their children simply because they are involved in the immigration system,” said Michelle Brané, Director of Migrant Rights and Justice at the Women’s Refugee Commission. “Enforcement of our immigration laws should not, and does not have to, come at the expense of family unity and child well-being.”
“I reintroduced the Help Separated Families Act today to prevent the tragic placement of children with strangers in foster care following the detention or deportation of a parent. Separating these American kids from their families does not reflect our American values.” said Rep. Roybal-Allard. “As a nation, we claim to value children and families, but at least 5,000 American kids are in foster care today because of our deeply unjust immigration laws. My bill would take sensible steps to prevent U.S. children from being separated from their loved ones. This legislation is critically important and I call on Speaker Boehner to finally get serious about passing comprehensive immigration reform, including the provisions of my bill, so that we can end the deportations which have tragically altered so many lives. Let’s put families first in immigration reform.”
Reunification efforts are often frustrated by disconnects between the immigration system and state child welfare system. It is considered a child welfare best practice to place children separated from their parents with grandparents, aunts, uncles, or other family members. Yet many federally funded child welfare agencies reject otherwise qualified relative caregivers if they are undocumented immigrants. Child welfare best practice also involves parents in discussions about the care of their children, but parents detained or deported by immigration authorities often are unable to participate in court hearings or meet child welfare administrative deadlines. In such cases, parental rights may even be terminated when detention or deportation denies parents the opportunity to meet child welfare requirements.
The Help Separated Families Act eliminates several barriers to reunification. It prohibits federally funded child welfare agencies from relying solely on immigration status in child placement determinations. It also clarifies that certain forms of foreign identification are sufficient for purposes of a prospective caregiver's background check and ensures that questions about caregivers' immigration status are limited to eligibility determinations for relevant services or programs. Finally, unless certain conditions are met, the bill prevents child welfare agencies from filing for termination of parental rights in cases where immigration enforcement is the main reason for a child's removal from the parent's custody. Comparable provisions were included in the Senate immigration bill (S. 744).
“These issues affect a significant number of children,” said Brané. “According to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, more than 200,000 removal orders were issued for parents of U.S. citizen children during a recent period of just over two years.”
The Applied Research Center estimated in 2011 that more than 5,000 children remained in state child welfare systems because of enforcement actions against a parent. Up to 5.5 million children – the vast majority of whom are U.S. citizens – live with at least one undocumented parent.
“Millions of kids go to school every morning not knowing if the government will come that day to take their parents away,” said Lesley. “The Help Separated Families Act gives families shattered by immigration enforcement a chance to stay together.”
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