On Thursday, Congresswoman Lucille Roybal-Allard (CA-34) introduced legislation to address the rising number of children in foster care as a result of immigration enforcement. The “Help Separated Families Act of 2012” intends to keep children of detained or deported parents united with their families.
A 2011 investigation by Colorlines.com found that there are currently at least 5,100 children in foster care whose parents have been detained or deported.
“This is a great step forward in addressing the human impact of immigration and child welfare policies. Kids and families are waiting for systemic action to prevent tragic separations,” said Rinku Sen, executive director of the Applied Research Center, Colorlines.com’s publisher.
Below is an excerpt from the speech Congresswoman Roybal-Allard’s delivered to the House on Thursday July, 12, 2012:
As parental deportation and detention rates have risen in recent years, the devastating impact on families has increased. Mothers like Encarnacion Bail Romero, who was apprehended in a federal immigration raid in 2007 and torn from her then-seven-month son, often face insurmountable barriers to family reunification. Ms. Romero, a native of Guatemala, had her parental rights terminated while in federal custody after a judge ruled that “illegally smuggling herself into the country is not a lifestyle that can provide any stability for the child.” Her son Carlitos was adopted out against her will to a new family who now calls him Jameson, and Ms. Romero has not seen him in approximately five years. What this case and so many more like it tell us is that, in the U.S., immigration status in itself has become grounds to permanently separate families. This is absolutely, unquestionably inhumane and unacceptable - particularly for a country that values family and fairness so highly. The bond that exists between children and parents is not weakened by country of origin or immigration status. Undocumented parents love their children and want the best for them as all parents do, yet our broken child welfare and immigration systems undermine the best interests of their families. The Help Separated Families Act helps address this heartbreaking issue.
To ensure more children are cared for by family members, my bill prohibits immigration status from disqualifying a parent, legal guardian, or relative from placement consideration. While current law allows undocumented individuals to become a foster or adoptive parent, our child welfare system continues to be biased against undocumented caregivers, as evidenced by a 12-year-old boy in Michigan who has spent two full years in foster care with strangers after both of his parents were deported. Even though his aunt and uncle sought custody, they were denied by the child welfare agency on the basis of their immigration status. The Help Separated Families Act also facilitates family unity by prohibiting states from petitioning to terminate parental rights based on the deportation or detention of a parent, provided certain conditions have been met. This provision protects the legal rights of parents and prevents child welfare agencies from unfairly, unnecessarily, and permanently separating children from their parents.