Roybal-Allard Bill Would Reunite Families Shattered by Immigration Enforcement
Washington – Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA) introduced today the Help Separated Families Act (H.R. 6128), legislation to improve the likelihood that children taken into state custody following immigration enforcement actions against their parents can ultimately reunify with their parents.
"Families belong together, and parents of every immigration status should have a say in what happens to their kids," said First Focus Campaign for Children President Bruce Lesley. "The Help Separated Families Act reflects those basic family values."
Reunification efforts are often frustrated by disconnects between the immigration system and state child welfare systems. 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 routinely reject otherwise qualified relative caregivers just because 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.
"Bureaucratic roadblocks and immigration politics shouldn't override a child's best interests," said Lesley.
The threat affects a significant number of children. More than 46,000 parents of U.S. citizen children had been removed from the United States during the first six months of 2011, according to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. The Applied Research Center reported last November that more than 5,000 affected children remained in state child welfare systems. Up to 5.5 million children - the vast majority of whom are U.S. citizens - live with at least one undocumented parent and are at risk of separation because of immigration enforcement actions.
"Congresswoman Roybal-Allard understands that children taken from their homes because of immigration enforcement shouldn't suffer the additional trauma of never seeing their loving parents again," said Lesley. "Her legislation gives families shattered by immigration enforcement what we would all want - a fair chance to stay together."
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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.