COVID-19 has complicated the process of reuniting immigrant families with their children when a parent with an ongoing child welfare case is either in ICE custody in the U.S. or has been deported. But that doesn’t mean these families are powerless to enforce their rights, according to the Immigrant Legal Rights Center.
And although the Trump administration made it harder well before the public health crisis gummed up the system even more, parents and guardians still have a shot of getting back with their children — if child welfare agencies and advocates act diligently, the San Francisco-based group says.
In 2013, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement issued its first directive regarding parental interests directing ICE staff to ensure that the agency’s immigration enforcement activities “did not unnecessarily disrupt parental rights and the rights of legal guardians,” according to guidance the immigrant rights center released (PDF) April 28.
When Trump issued his Detention and Removal of Alien Parents or Legal Guardians (the Detained Parents Directive) in 2017, it replaced the original Obama-era directive “with a policy that is much less protective of parents,” according to the center’s guidance.
“Nevertheless,” it went on, “the Detained Parents Directive is an important advocacy resource that can be used to ensure that parents who are in ICE detention or have been deported are able to participate in child welfare proceedings and comply with reunification services, all with the goal of maintaining family unity.”
The guidance focuses on how the Trump directive can be used to compel three key actions:
- Keeping detained parents at facilities near their children
- Maintaining parents’ ability to at least remotely attend child welfare proceedings
- Facilitate visits between children and their parents
But ensuring that clients are treated fairly when they go through court-driven reunification proceedings during the COVID-19 period will require child welfare agencies and advocates to be even more diligent than usual in overcoming barriers.
“Detention or deportation may make it incredibly difficult to participate in the child welfare proceedings or comply with family reunification services,” the guidance continues. “One critical tool to help child welfare agencies address these challenges for detained or deported parents is ICE’s own policy on detaining and deporting parents and legal guardians.”
The guidance goes on to describe the available protections under the original directive and how child welfare agencies can put them into practice on families’ behalf despite the complications involved in protecting ICE staffers, children, parents and guardians, advocates and judges from the coronavirus.
Chuck Carroll is a freelance journalist and editor working with The Imprint.