California’s governor yesterday signed two pieces of legislation aimed at protecting immigrant parents and their children from permanent separation. The bills, inspired in part by Colorlines.com’s Shattered Families investigation, take steps to stop U.S. citizen children from getting stuck in foster care if their parents are detained and deported. But the immigrant rights victories are tempered by Gov. Jerry Brown’s decision to veto the closely watched Trust Act, a bill that would have curtailed the state’s participation in Secure Communities, the federal government’s core deportation program.
The two family bills were introduced earlier this year to address the separation of families at the intersection of deportation and the child welfare system. In November, Colorlines.com published a national investigation that conservatively estimates over 5000 children are stuck in foster care with detained and deported parents.
The first bill, SB 1064, introduced by Sen. Kevin De Leon of Los Angeles, extends the period of time for family reunification afforded to deported parents. Current California law provides between six months and a year for families to reunite before courts move foster children into adoption, but parental detention and deportation often makes it impossible for parents to take part in reunification requirements. The bill allows judges to lengthen these timelines when deportation erects barriers to reunification.
De Leon’s bill also instructs child welfare departments to ignore immigration status when evaluating an adult family to care for a young relative. Without such clear guidance, many county child welfare departments refuse to place foster children with their own relatives if the adults are undocumented immigrants. The effect is that these kids can end up in the custody of strangers.
Finally, SB 1064 provides guidance to child welfare departments to establish formal agreements with foreign consulates so that children of deported parents can be reunified with their parents.
The second California family bill, introduced by Assembly Member Holly Mitchell, also of Los Angeles, requires police to ask arrestees if they are a custodial parents. Parents are then allowed to make two additional phone calls to arrange for the care of their children. The bill, AB 2015, requires that signs informing parents of this right be posted in all languages spoken by a substantial number of people held in the jail.
“As a parent I think it’s unfathomable that parental rights can be terminated simply because of immigration status,” state Sen. Kevin De Leon of Los Angeles told Colorlines.com soon after SB 1064 was introduced. “It’s completely unacceptable, but it is the reality that many parents face because of the current immigration system.”
On the same day that he signed the two family bills, Gov. Jerry Brown affirmed that that the current immigration system will remain in place in California. Brown vetoed the Trust Act, a state bills that would have interrupted the deportations by limiting the scope of the Secure Communities program, one of the central drivers of the federal government’s record setting rate of deportation. Through the program, localities send the feds finger print data for everyone booked into a local jail. The feds tell to localities to keep detaining immigrants who may be deportable. The Trust Act would have prohibited local jails from holding immigrants convicted of minor crimes.
In blocking the Trust Act, California will continue to shuttle non-citizens toward deportation, even when charged with minor offenses. Many detained parents are picked up by immigration authorities following an arrest on minor charges.