124428416Yesterday, a bipartisan “Gang of 8” U.S. senators released immigration reform legislation. In our initial review of the bill, we have noted the inclusion of provisions that are critical to advancing children’s interests and protecting their basic rights. For instance, the bill creates a roadmap to
citizenship for aspiring citizens, including a more streamlined and inclusive version of the DREAM Act for undocumented youth, appointment of counsel for unaccompanied children in immigration proceedings, and reforms to help children in foster care reunite with parents who have been detained or deported.

As child advocates, we’re pleased to see that the bill recognizes the need for reforms to the way our child welfare system interacts with the immigration system and handles cases involving undocumented parents. The reality is that all too often our child welfare system is not handling these cases properly. Families that come in contact with child welfare who are also involved in immigration proceedings have unique needs and circumstances. Yet when detained or removed parents have children involved in the public child welfare system, they face significant challenges in reunifying with their children.

There are many reasons for this. One is the lack of coordination between ICE and child welfare agencies which make it difficult for families to meet case plan requirements, participate in family court proceedings, or make custody or travel arrangements for their children upon removal. As a result, reunifying with their children becomes difficult. In addition, strict child welfare reunification timelines can also put detained or removed parents at risk of having their parental rights inappropriately terminated, and child welfare agencies may choose not to place children with other relative caregivers simply because of their undocumented immigration status.

Under Title II, Section 2107(b), the Senate immigration reform bill makes several critical modifications to SSA Title IV-E State Plan Amendments. These reforms only apply state child welfare plans. As we move forward, we also need to push for reforms within ICE enforcement practice in order to prevent children from unnecessarily entering the foster care by ensuring that parents are afforded their due process rights and are able to make decisions regarding their child’s care at the time of apprehension and throughout the detention and removal process, and can actively participate in child welfare case plans.

We look forward to working with Congress in both chambers and on both sides of the aisle in the weeks ahead to ensure that immigration enforcement policies as well as state child welfare policies honor our American values of keeping families together and putting children first.
To learn more about this issue, please see the following resources from First Focus:

Falling Through the Cracks: The Impact of Immigration Enforcement on Children Caught Up in the Child Welfare System

Children in Harm’s Way: Criminal Justice, Immigration Enforcement, and Child Welfare