The comprehensive immigration reform bill, released early this morning by a group of eight Senators, both Republicans and Democrats, includes provisions to reunite families separated by immigration detention and deportation. It also includes provisions to keep U.S. citizen children of deported parents from languishing in foster care, a problem Colorlines has documented, and to protect deportees from losing parental rights.
Since 2011, Colorlines.com has reported on the the fallout of immigration enforcement on families and children. An investigation we released in late 2011 found there are thousands of children stuck in foster care with deported parents. Data I obtained in December revealed that approximately about 23 percent of deportees have U.S. citizen children. Over 200,000 moms and dads of U.S. citizens were removed in a period of just over two years, according to government records. An unknown number of deportees leave their partners or parents behind.
I reported on Monday that the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act would allow some deported immigrants with U.S. citizen children, parents or spouses to petition to return to the United States and apply for the Registered Provisional Immigrant visa—the 10 year visa that leads to a green card. That’s the case, though the path back may not be an easy one. The bill also includes protections so that children of deportees are not stuck in foster care in the future.
Deportees With Family Can Apply to Return
Generally, the millions of people deported in recent decades will be excluded from the promises of the immigration reform. But for deportees with children, spouses and parents who are U.S. citizens or permanent residents, the bill does include the prospect to return to the U.S. and to apply for Registered Provisional Immigrant status, or RPI, the 10-year visa that can then lead to a green card.
Deported immigration, as well as those who come back after they are deported, who have immediate family in the U.S. will be allowed to ask the Department of Homeland Security for a new kind of waiver to be allowed to return.
The waivers will only be available to those deported immigrants who would have been eligible for RPI status had they not been deported. Those removed because of criminal convictions will be ineligible. Homeland Security officials have said that three quarters of deported parents were deported because of criminal issues, though many of these issues involve minor violations. Ultimately, the Department of Homeland Security has the discretion to grant or deny the waivers, so how many will be allowed back to the U.S. is unclear. Bur for at least a segment of deported immigrants with kids, spouses and parents in the U.S., reunification would be possible.
Keeping Kids Out Of Foster Care
The Act also includes protections to stop children from entering into foster care if their parents are deported or detained and to help reunite families if they are separated. These provisions, which are similar to those in a bill introduced last year called the Help Separated Children Act and to legislation passed in California, instruct state and county child welfare departments against terminating a parent’s rights to their children solely on the basis of deportation of detention.
The Colorlines.com investigation found that once parents are deported and their kids are in foster care, they are often treated as non-entities, as if they’ve abandoned their children. Child welfare departments in some cases fail to contact deported parents or their consulates before moving kids into adoption proceedings. Our investigation revealed that unless county officials contact the consular offices, there’s little chance of reuniting a child in foster care with their mother or father.
The immigration bill tries to address these problems by affirming that if a state or county wants to terminate the rights of a deportee, it must first try “identify, locate, and contact [the parent] through the diplomatic or consular offices of the country to which the parent was removed.”
Further, the bill requires the Department of Homeland Security to allow parents facing deportation who want to take their kids with them to prepare documents like passports, birth certificates and school records the kids will need to travel and settle into a new country. And the legislation bars child welfare departments from refusing to place children with their undocumented family members. It will require that case workers speak the language of the children’s families.
In conversations, advocates for these provisions say it will take a fight to keep the language in final legislation, but they agree that the inclusion sections in a bipartisan bill is an early victory for families.